Okanagan cherry growers are looking at a reduced crop this year after a series of cold events damaged buds.
Up to 60% of buds were damaged when cold air swept into the South Okanagan on April 2.
“I saw a low of -8°C in Summerland, and South Okanagan orchards were close to green tip,” says Charlotte Leaming of the field services staff at BC Tree Fruits. She has been out opening buds and counting blackened flower pistils over the last several days in order to estimate the damage. “I calculated anywhere from 16% to 60% damage.”
The cold event followed a more severe event in mid-January that saw temperatures dip to -18°C in Kelowna and -24 in Vernon on January 13-15.
“We know that there was some damage at that time, but winter bud kill is harder to predict,” explains Leaming. “It depends on the temperatures leading up to the lows, how fast the temperature dropped and how long it stayed down.”
Some may argue that fewer flowers may produce a smaller crop but larger cherries that fetch a higher price. But cold air pools in hollows within the orchard and doesn’t thin buds evenly.
“You can find five or six damaged buds in a cluster in one tree and 20 paces down the row there is nothing,” says Hank Markgraf of Hank’s Horticulture in Kelowna.
Leaming says the 2020 crop isn’t yet a write-off, however.
“If we get lovely slow warming weather at bloom and great pollination we will still have a pretty decent crop of cherries,” she says. “But if the weather is not good, the whole industry will be down.”