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Extreme cold blasts B.C.’s cherry crop

Cherry growers in British Columbia are reeling following the January deep freeze event that threatens to dramatically reduce the 2024 BC cherry crop. Pixabay

Barry Coulter

Further bad news for the soft fruit crop in B.C. was announced Monday.

A press release from the the BC Cherry Association on Feb. 12 says cherry producers are reeling following the January deep freeze event “that threatens to dramatically reduce the 2024 BC cherry crop.”

The association blames a mild start to the winter followed by a sudden and unseasonably cold polar vortex in January for the lack of fruit.

“This is the most challenging season our growers have seen in our lifetime,” said BCCA President, Sukhpaul Bal.

On February 8, 2024, the BC Cherry Association convened its membership for a crucial meeting to discuss the impact of an unprecedented ‘polar vortex’ that hit all cherry growing regions of British Columbia early in January.

Damage to a large percentage of developing cherry buds occurred when temperatures across the Southern Interior fell well below -25C on the night of January 12, with some weather stations recording readings as low -31C.

“What made this event so destructive for cherry growers was the fact that less than a week earlier the temperatures were well above freezing. Cherry trees had no time to develop the necessary winter hardiness, and fruit buds were unable to cope with the sudden drop in temperature in such a short period of time.”

Immediately following the period of extreme cold that gripped the BC interior in January, the BCCA Board of Directors held an emergency meeting to assess the situation, and growers began collecting cuttings from orchards to evaluate the damage in the following days.

“The analysis of the buds on those branches is almost complete, and it is already clear that this was a climate change event that will impact the cherry crop more than any the industry has experienced before,” the association said in its release.

This comes on the heels of back-to-back yearly climate change events that have had successive impacts on the cherry industry in Western Canada. In the summer of 2021 B.C. was hit by the now infamous ‘heat dome’ with temperatures in cherry orchards reaching upwards of 47 C.

Growers had to face enormous challenges and crop losses resulting from that, but the BCCA can confirm that 2024 will be much worse in terms of lost crop. And the effect may extend beyond the upcoming season. “It is too early to say what the impact will be on crops in 2025 and beyond, but it is certainly possible that trees in the worst hit areas have suffered long-lasting damage with a recovery that could take years,” said Bal.

It’s not just the cherry industry that has been blasted by the weather. Orchards in the Creston Valley and Okanagan have also suffered significant damage.

Frank Wloka at Wloka Farms recently told the Advance that his soft fruit trees have suffered 100 per cent bud mortality from this weather event, including peaches, apricots, prunes, plums, nectarines and cherries. He confirmed the data with an agronomist on Jan. 29.

“The damage is extraordinarily significant,” he said. “We have experienced crop losses in the past, but not as extensive as we have experienced this go-around.”

He said his farm will have no soft fruit to sell this year, which will ultimately have heavy financial repercussions.

Red Bird Winery reported a minimum 90 per cent bud mortality on its grape plants last week and owner Rémi Cardinal said he isn’t expecting much fruit at all this year.

Martha Flamenco at Flamenco Farms said that while she hasn’t completed a full bud assessment yet, she expects the crop to be light, particularly cherries and peaches. She said she’d have further data by the end of the month.