YAKIMA, Wash. — After coping with wind for a week or more, Central Washington cherry growers were turning their attention to probable rain in the forecast. But damage from either likely won’t be severe.
Wind mainly damaged Rainier cherries, which are about 10% of the total crop, and moderate temperatures were forecast to accompany possible rain, which would minimize damage.
“Yes, the wind damage is probably fairly light in terms of the whole crop but for a yellow cherry grower it can be significant,” said Jeff LaPorte, director of field services for Chelan Fruit Cooperative in Chelan.
Rainier is the leading yellow cherry, but there’s also Early Robin and Orondo Ruby.
The amount of fruit packed dropped 10% and sometimes more due to wind damage, LaPorte said.
The wind-exposed outside edges of orchard blocks “are beat up pretty hard,” he said.
Jim Kelley, a fieldman in the Tri-cities for Sage Fruit Co., of Yakima, said Pasco, Kennewick and Richland didn’t get near the wind that the Yakima Valley and Mattawa did.
“My growers in this district have taken a little bit of damage but nothing major,” he said.
Packouts may have declined 5 to 7% due to wind, he said.
“What we are able to pack is good quality. Sugars are up. It’s large in size. Just not as many getting into a packed box but we’ll make the best of it,” Kelley said.
Rob Valicoff, president of Valicoff Fruit Co., Wapato, said his Rainier “didn’t look beat up too bad.”
Winds struck June 19 and gusted most afternoons for a week, up to 35-40 mph in places.
Wind bangs cherries around, bruising them from hitting or rubbing branches, leaves and other cherries. The riper the fruit the more susceptible they are to damage. Rainier bruises more easily than dark cherries.
A lighter crop helps in some areas because clusters aren’t as tight.
Charles Lyall, a grower in Mattawa, said he may lose 20 to 25% of his Rainier.
“We’ve had a little wind all season, but it really dumped on us on June 19 and June 22,” he said. “So on the edges (of orchards), we’re just walking away from it (not picking).”
Lyall said he had a “really good season” on his early varieties, but that wind has been a factor across the region from Pasco to Okanogan.
Andy Handley, an East Wenatchee grower with orchards there and in Quincy and Mattawa, said he had severe damage in Rainier from “at least four major wind events in the past two weeks.”
“The outsides of blocks (orchards), anything exposed, we lost them all. A lot of bruising. Interiors of blocks had damage but not as severe,” he said.
Packers were holding to strict grading standards, so probably at least 25% of the Rainier crop is lost but that’s still a small part of the whole crop, he said.
B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima, said wind disrupted growers’ spray applications of gibberellic acid to firm up fruit and pesticides to combat spotted wing drosophila.
By June 25, warehouses had packed and shipped 4.8 million, 20-pound boxes of cherries since the start on June 6. Thurlby expected the first and largest peak of more than 600,000 boxes in one day on June 26 or 27.
Last year’s peak was 689,616 boxes on June 29. The total crop is expected at about 22 million boxes by the time it ends in August.
On June 20, Rick Gifford watched wind bounce branches of his Rainier trees as he mowed between rows to prepare to open his R&J U-pick the next day.
“I have some wind bruising but it’s a lighter crop. If I had a heavier crop, I’d have more damage,” Gifford said.
Birds are a bigger problem, about as bad as he can remember in the last 20 years, he said.
“I’m the last orchard for aways around so seem to be an oasis for birds,” he said. “It wouldn’t be so bad if they ate the whole cherry but they just take a peck and move onto the next one.”
Two women from Seattle dropped in and were delighted when he allowed them to pick a day early since they were on their way home.
“They’re so beautiful!” one of them, Lan Le, exclaimed of the cherries.
The other, Yodit Teklemarian, said she didn’t want to stop and wished she lived in the area.