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USA - Month of May was hard for Californian cherry growers

The state of California’s worst-ever recorded drought was over more than two years ago. However, five years of dry weather have left their mark. That must be why the unusually stormy month of May was welcomed by so many people.

Among some California farmers, the heavy rain was anything but welcome. The wet weather damaged blueberries and stone fruit and delayed harvesting of some naval orange varieties. But for cherry farmers, the May weather was particularly unwelcome, as ahead of it they believed they were heading into a great 2019 harvest season.

“Across the state of California, we had a good set [of cherries]. We had good weather for the pollination,” and industry experts were predicting commercial cherry groves might produce about 10 million boxes, which could have been at or near a record for the state, said Russell Davidson, CFO of Warmerdam Packing, a grower and packer of cherries and other fruit northeast of Hanford.

Some in the cherry industry had predicted the amount of boxed fruit might go as high as 11-12 million.

But thanks to May’s rains, the number of boxes are predicted to reach just 4 million, said Tony Yasuda, a managing partner in KY Farming, LLC, in Reedley, a packing house that also farms about 350 acres of cherries.

The reason for the rain problem was because it hit in May, in the midst of California’s six-week cherry harvest season — which usually can land from late April or early May and last through early June — and each storm was followed by more storms through the end of the month.

Though some farmers growing early-season cherry varieties managed to get all or some of their cherries picked ahead of the storms, experts say many growers from Arvin to Stockton lost 50-70% or more of their crops.

“That tells you how we have been devastated. I mean, there are fields we didn’t even start to pick any crop in,” as there wasn’t enough good fruit left to make harvesting it financially worthwhile.

In the cherry groves that were picked, it often ended up taking three buckets of picked cherries to generate one full bucket of good fruit — after all of it had been inspected and the damaged cherries removed, as some of the cracks and splits can’t be seen easily by the pickers, Yasuda said.

Adding to cherry farmers’ woes is that the moist weather can also cause rot to set in among some of the uncracked cherries.

“So it’s really expensive picking and really expensive packing, because there’s so much rot that we just have to slow it down,” Yasuda said.

It may be months before the full financial effects of this year’s water-damaged California cherry harvest are known. While it’s not clear if any farms will be lost over it, he said some farm lay-offs seem likely.

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