Apples, cherries off to slow start but no lingering effect

Apple and cherry trees throughout British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley are behind average development this spring, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Fred Steele, president of the British Columbia Fruit Growers’ Association, said the valley’s many microclimates make estimates patchy, but generally the trees are about three weeks behind.

“We had blossoms on cherries in many places this time last year,” he said.

However, last year was exceptionally early, about a month ahead of the average.

“Three weeks behind is not a bad thing,” said Steele, adding that the winter’s high snowfall delayed spring pruning for many orchard operators, so the later start should give many time to catch up.

As well, the later start reduces the risk that threatening spring frosts will hit vulnerable buds.

“It mitigates some things. It creates problems in other areas.”

Steele doubts the slower start will affect fruit quality or quantity over the course of the growing season. Winter damage caused by extended cold snaps might affect cherries.

“Right here in Glenmore (a region of Kelowna), we had -23 C for about three, four days in a row at night,” said Steele.

“We’re going to be keeping an eye on that, too. So far we are seeing some budding. We don’t know what the damage is going to be on that yet.”

The outlook for pests appears the same as usual with no overriding concerns.

“There are the usual suspects: aphids, coddling moths and things of that nature.”

He said one thing he has noticed recently is how much more rapidly new pests arrive on the scene. The Okanagan Valley used to get a new pest every five or 10 years but now sees new arrivals every three to five years.

Clearwing moths and spotted wing drosophila are two of the most recent pests to which growers in the region have had to adapt.

The valley remains the only fruit growing region in North America that remains free of the apple maggot.

A couple of dead flies were found last year in a commercial area — not in an orchard — but it is expected to become the next major obstacle Okanagan growers will have to face.

Steele said growers have stepped up monitoring, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has be-come involved with the effort to keep apple maggot out of the valley as long as possible.

“The other one that has everybody on edge is the brown marmorated stink bug,” Steele said.

“That can do untold damage and not just to tree fruit. That does damage to everything.”

He said a few were found along the Penticton canal outside the edge of the city, and the trees were removed.

Officials are not sure if the appearance was an anomaly or if more will appear this year.

The RV park and extensive campgrounds in the immediate area make the area vulnerable to insects and weeds carried in by tourists and transport trucks, Steele said.

He said many orchards will soon begin spraying dormant oil, which is a food grade oil, to discourage bugs from laying eggs on branches.

Steele also said growers must remain on guard for fungal problems. The valley has recently seen a resurgence of fire blight, which is mainly weather dependent, encouraged by rain followed by sunny, warm temperatures.

The markets this year also appear to be strong as Canada remains a dominant supplier in Asian markets, he said.

That’s largely because of the quality assurance systems that B.C. and Canada have in place.

Programs such as the On Farm Food Safety Program, FoodSafe and environmental safety programs have boosted Asian consumer confidence in their products, he said.

“We can sell what we can produce.”

Terry Fries is a freelance writer based in Summerland, B.C.

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