• Saturday , 28 January 2023

The hit and miss life of a cherry farmer

When Mother Nature is your boss, your time at work can be anything but typical.

Take this week. As I write this, the sun is shining and those white puffy clouds hold no evidence of what is likely to come – a very good chance of rain, right through the weekend.

“Weather can change everything in the blink of an eye, and  it’s been like that so far,” says Paul Sidhu. He’s part-owner of BK Orchards in Peachland, which borders Hardy Falls. A full-time grower since 1991, Sidhu has learned to play weather roulette, and sometimes, the results are mixed.

“For example, the thunderstorm and hail we had late last week didn’t damage most of the cherries, as they’re still quite small — they’re a little late this year.

It was our apples that were most damaged — we’re looking at 80% damage to our apples this year.”

While the cherry crop looks promising, despite a bit of a later start, Sidhu says rain this time of year has growers constantly looking to the skies. Wet cherries are more likely to split, making them unsellable to both foreign and domestic markets.

While some growers will look up to find helicopters flying low over cherry trees, giving them a very expensive blow-dry, Sidhu relies on Parka, a food-grade treatment that provides a protective shield, making the cherries less resistant to cracking.

“It helps a bit before the rain falls. It’s glue-y and  makes the water slip off the cherries. My own cherries that were more of the red side were split, but they did get protected a little. I’ll probably spray them before this rain is supposed to start again.”

The best defense against the hassle and heartache of split cherries, lies in diversity, Sidhu says.

“I took nine acres of apples out this year and planted grapes. I have 30 acres of apples left, and within three or four years, I hope to replace it with grapes.”

He says the lower-hanging fruit is more protected from the elements, and unlike the apple market, which is saturated with competition from the US and elsewhere, grapes are almost a sure thing here in wine country.

“We know the price we’re getting in advance because we have a contact and our grapes meet the standard for sugar content, ph requirements and that kind of thing. Plus, we get good weather here in the Okanagan.”

So, in the land of fruit orchards, it seems the tried and true grape is the winner. That’s something this wino can definitely support 😉

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