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Fruit industry hard hit by heatwave

By: RealAgriculture News Team

July 7, 2021

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Unbelievably hot temperatures recently hit parts of B.C., the Pacific Northwest, and into California, injuring fruit and trees alike.

Glen Lucas, general manager for the B.C. Fruit Growers Association based at Kelowna, B.C., recently joined Shaun Haney to talk about how orchards are affected by the recent heatwave.

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“The first thing that was of note was concern for farm owners and labourers, the workers who are harvesting the fruit, so we want to keep them safe,” says Lucas, adding that there’s been a change in shift times, starting earlier, but even still, nighttime temperatures didn’t drop much below 30 degrees C.

The aftermath of the heatwave includes significant crop damage to all fruit-growing regions of the province. Lucas says that some of the cherry crops will be alright, except for the tops of trees which experienced a baking or sunburnt effect.

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“Also, for some of our irrigation systems, people are calling this a millennial event, and when you’re designing for a once every hundred year event, your irrigation systems can’t keep up,” says Lucas, something he says fruit growers will have to keep an eye on in the future.

Courtesy of BCFGA

Where fertility was strong, Lucas says there is probably less damage, but for orchards that are more vulnerable, the leaves have been baked on the trees. Evidence of flagging, when the leaves droop, is evident and uniform throughout the growing region.

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For the most part, consumers won’t see damaged fruit, as cherries that have turned brown won’t be harvested, but Lucas says growers will claim crop insurance for it.

There’s a lot of demand for Canadian cherries in places like China, and the heatwave will most likely affect exports.

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“We were headed for a fairly large crop before this heat event, so we’ll be taking stock over the next week or two, to build our export progress re-build, our programs, and see what’s available,” says Lucas.

Late-season cherries are the ones that are exported, and this heat has damaged the early-season cherries, which will affect the domestic market.

Courtesy of BCFGA

Other fruits such as peaches and apricots have been affected as well, but the damage isn’t the same. Peach pits will heat up and ruin the flesh from the inside. Peaches can be harvested right up to September, and even though harvest isn’t on everyone’s minds right now, Lucas says they know there’s damage out there, making them unmarketable.

Damage to apples looks like a loonie, and the fruit turns brown and will drop off the tree, resulting in lost production. Desert or eating apples are also used in cider production, but there are also cider-specific varieties which aren’t grown in the same way as a desert apple. Because of more leaf cover, these apples may have fared better in the heatwave.

Labour shortages from before the heatwave have subsided, and now due to the damage there isn’t a need to take as much fresh fruit off the trees. However, the forest fires blazing in other parts of B.C. have prompted cautions for working conditions, further complicating the summer. The upside to the haziness is blocking out the sun, preventing further sunburn to fruit.

Lucas expects some orchards to lose trees because of the damage, and that the fruit industry will take several years to recover.