WENATCHEE — Cherry growers and fieldmen are still assessing the damage from heavy rain showers that hit the region Monday. The National Weather Service measured close to 0.4 inch at Pangborn Memorial Airport Monday. More rain is in the forecast for today with a lessening chance of precipitation and warmer temperatures Wednesday.
Rain close to harvest is bad news for cherry growers. Ripe cherries will soak up the moisture and can split, making them unfit for packing.
Growers have called in helicopters and run their empty speed sprayers through their orchards to dry off the fruit between showers.
Cool weather and wind following showers can minimize damage.
“The percent of damage depends on how long the water stays on the fruit,” said James Michael, vice president of North America marketing for Northwest Cherry Growers. Michael said orchards statewide have been hit by untimely rain showers that has caused damage. How much damage is still uncertain.
“There is damage but there’s still a lot of fruit that will make it to market,” he said. Rain showers have been spotty and there are lots of cherries at higher elevations that are still in early stages of development and not as susceptible to rain damage, he said.
Estimates forecast the Northwest cherry crop at between 16 and 17 million 20-pound boxes this year, significantly down from last year’s record crop of 23 million boxes. The Wenatchee area, with orchards planted at several elevations, is the nation’s leading sweet cherry producing region. Washington’s cherry crop is valued at more than $500 million annually.
Early season cherries have packed out lower than estimated due to weather events, Michael said. Split cherries slow sorting and drive up packing costs for growers. Smaller crops also result in higher retail costs for consumers, he said. Peak harvest for Northwest cherries generally comes around the Fourth of July. Harvest of late cherries often continues through August, but may wind up earlier this season.
“This year Mother Nature has not lined up well for cherry growers,” he said. “It’s raining, but there’s still a lot of good fruit yet to pick.”