Cooler temperatures, rain pound cherry and hay crops

Dan Wheat/Capital Press Bing cherries in the Gill Orchard in East Wenatchee, Wash., barely show pink on June 1. Usually they would have more color by then. Cool, wet weather has been splitting cherries south of Yakima and in California.

Wash. harvest likely postponed, but still make July 4 market

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

A cooler and wetter-than normal-April and May is delaying and damaging the cherry crops in Washington and California and doing the same to the first cutting of Eastern Washington hay.

However, dryland wheat farmers in Douglas County, Wash., the highest elevation wheat region in the state, are glad for added moisture.

All of the West Coast had a cool, wet May, said Ron Miller, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane.

Seattle was 2.6 degrees below normal in temperature and 1.05 inches above normal in precipitation in May, Portland was 2.1 degrees below normal and 2.37 inches above, Sacramento was 4 degrees below and .22 inches above and Boise was 5 degrees below and 1.03 inches above normal, Miller said.

Pangborn Memorial Airport near Wenatchee, Wash., had its second coldest and seventh wettest May since 1959, he said.

Most crops in Washington's Columbia Basin are probably behind in maturation and it's been too wet to spray weeds, said Les Wentworth, an Ephrata grower.

Early variety Chelan cherries have been splitting as they turn pink south of Yakima and with nothing but clouds and rain in forecasts, Chelan growers are "very nervous," said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima.

Heavy Washington harvest now looks likely to begin June 20 instead of June 10 and that means it will just barely make the crucial, large Fourth of July market, Thurlby said.

"This isn't good," he said. "This weather isn't helping a bit."

The total Washington crop is now estimated at 13.9 million, 20-pound boxes and Chelans likely will be 350,000 boxes down from an earlier estimate of 700,000 boxes and 1.3 million last year, Thurlby said.

Overlap with California's crop won't be as big a problem as once expected, he said.

Jim Culbertson, executive manager of the California Cherry Advisory Board in Lodi, said about half of California's cherry crop has been picked and 15 to 20 percent of what's left has been lost to rain. He said the crop likely will exceed 8 million boxes.

Chep Gauntt, a Kennewick hay grower, said a lot of the Washington Columbia Basin's first cutting has been down for a week or more and some raked four times before baling.

Some areas might be 50 percent cut and north Interstate 90, probably less, he said. Fields south of I-90 should be done by now, he said.

"It's been quite a battle. The hay market will be short this year throughout the West. By fall, high-demand, high-quality first cutting will be almost nonexistent," he said.

High-quality Basin hay is selling for $140 to $160 a ton now and will go to $160 to $170 by fall, he said.

Douglas County wheat growers are pleased with the rain which should help this year's crop and soil moisture for fall planting, said Kevin Whitehall, manager of Central Washington Grain Growers Inc. in Waterville. Some stands are poor because of low soil moisture last fall, he said. The region once harvest 13.5 million bushes of wheat annually but has been at 10 million the last two years.

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