Early harvest complicates fruit marketing in B.C.

SUMMERLAND, B.C. — Harvest came early this year for most tree fruit in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

That normally wouldn’t be a problem given good quality and strong yields, but it does create unique challenges.

For cherries, that meant having to pass on sales into markets that normally buy late season varieties.

“The season was very early this year. We were three or as much as four weeks earlier than normal,” said Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association.

He said even though the province now grows more later-maturing cherries, the crop still came too early to suit some markets.

“We were not able to satisfy demand for late season cherries because it finished so early this year.”

Specifically, he pointed to the Moon Festival celebrated in China and other Asian countries. It falls based on the full moon around the autumn equinox (between Sept. 8 and Oct. 7 on the Gregorian calendar). The festival normally eats up a large supply of late-season cherries.

Even though newer, later-maturing varieties, such as Staccato, have extended cherry-picking season into late August or September from late July, they could not be kept fresh long enough to supply the late-season buyers.

On the bright side, Lucas said that meant Canadian cherry lovers had a good supply of the larger, more firm late-maturing varieties, such as Staccato.

And this season’s crop was decent in both quality and quantity, he said.

Early- and mid-season challenges were caused by periodic rainfall throughout the Okanagan, but growers appear to have limited damage by using blowers and wind machines to help reduce splitting.

“We got through it and it was good, but it wasn’t a banner year.”

Numbers for this year aren’t in, but B.C. produced 17,100 tonnes of cherries last year, up from 15,424 in 2014, according to Statistics Canada.

In Oliver, in the South Okanagan, dry weather took some of the sheen off of this year’s cherry crop.

Pinder Dhaliwal, vice-president of B.C. Fruit Growers, said the blossoms looked promising, but there were hidden issues below. Dried pistils were unable to pollinate.

“To the naked eye, the flowers looked great — nice and white and everything, but because of the heat, even if the bee sat on it, it (pollen) just fell.”

This year’s peach crop, also above-average in yield, faced similar timing challenges.

Peaches are a much smaller crop overall than cherries, so small brokers handle most sales and specific numbers are not available.

However, because they were harvested two weeks early, it created some small issues with demand.

“Consumers are so used to a different time,” Dhaliwal said.

“They always peg things down to a specific time, for canning or whatever. It throws consumers off when it’s early.”

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