Cherries the pits but apples continue as core money makers

Life’s bowl of cherries is a disappointment to many British Columbia cherry growers this year.

Frequent rain in the Okanagan during June and July slowed development and caused splitting problems.

“The result of that was less than normal quality fruit in the early season varieties,” said Chris Pollock, marketing manager for B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. in Kelowna.

Washington state had similar weather challenges, coupled with hail later in the season, said Pollock. The result was small, soft cherries entering retail stores from B.C. and Washington, which didn’t appeal to consumers.

That lowered prices for growers.

“It really created a very challenging and competitive pricing market in a not so positive way,” Pollock said.

Late season cherries are now entering the market, and better weather during their key growing period has resulted in higher quality.

However, stores still have plenty of early-season cherries, which are affecting prices for the later crop.

The news is better for B.C.’s apple growers. Hank Markgraf, an apple grower in the Okanagan, said there is generally good fruit size and a better potential crop than last year.

Sunrise apples, the earliest variety, are expected to reach Canadian stores in early September, followed by Royal Galas and then all the other varieties.

“On average, we’re going to be a bit later than usual,” said Markgraf about harvest timing, but he expects the amount of available apples, an estimated 2.7 million cartons, will be about the same as last year.

The grower said he was surprised that wet spring and early summer weather didn’t generate unusual disease or insect problems. Codling moth, leaf rollers and aphids are the most common pests that plague fruit production.

Pollock said the early season frost that destroyed much of the apple crop in Eastern Canada could be a boon to Okanagan growers if they can supply some of that market.

“We are working towards trying to ensure we can supply our fruit to our western Canadian core customers as well as the east opportunities that may arise.”

Markgraf echoed those hopes from a grower perspective.

“We’re feeling pretty optimistic that prices will be higher than they were last year,” he said.

Hailstorms in Washington reduced the state’s apple crop by an estimated 10 to 15 million boxes, which could also improve market opportunities for B.C. growers.

“There’s a pretty big demand for fruit out there right now and it will stay that way,” said Markgraf.

There is virtually no carryover of last year’s crop, he added.

Okanagan peaches and nectarines fared better from weather conditions, and production is estimated to be about the same as last year, at three million pounds of peaches and 710,000 to 715,000 lb. of nectarines.

“From all indications that I’ve heard, peaches are good this year,” said Pollock.

The Bartlett pear harvest is expected to start this week, followed by the Bosc variety and then the Anjous in about four weeks’ time.

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