Cherries baked by heat

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

July 22, 2006

Three weeks of pick-out remain for cherry orchards in Hood River County, which looks to be a banner year for volume.

Neil Galone, vice-president of marketing for Diamond Fruit Growers, Inc., said estimates are the 2006 harvest will bring in a record amount of 14 million 20-pound boxes over last year’s 12 million.

But triple-digit temperatures a month ago took a toll on the quality of the fruit. That scenario may repeat itself this weekend with a forecast by the National Weather Service for 104 degrees in Hood River on Saturday.

“Heat pulls the moisture out to the leaf from the cherry,” said Bruce Kiyokawa, a field agent for Diamond Fruit Growers. “Temperatures around 90 degrees, we’re okay, but when it’s knocking on 100 degrees we get concerned.”

The first heat wave during harvest a month ago resulted in softer, smaller cherries being sent to market from across the Northwest. Galone said the July 4 holiday traditionally serves as an indicator for how well cherry sales will do for the season.

“What we usually hope for after the Fourth is to see all the retailers reorder,” he said. “This year after the Fourth we were hearing they still had loads on the floor unilaterally across the country.”

The harvest continues as it did Thursday afternoon in Trent Weseman’s orchard near Parkdale. Pickers had begun Tuesday and Weseman planned to bring on his largest crew yet Friday morning to try and beat the heat.

His father, Jim Weseman, and crew supervisor Abelino Barajas rounded workers up at 2 p.m. as temperatures rose. Jim said this year’s harvest of Lapins out of the orchard was the first true harvest of fruit from it.

“Last year everybody dropped and the first year we got frosted out,” he said.

This year’s harvest is running later than last year, according to Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission chairman Dana Branson.

“It’s not over yet; things are later this year as far as maturity goes but everything is going later than usual,” she said. “For example, in The Dalles they are still picking Bings and Rainiers.”

Kiyokawa said the remaining orchards to be picked in Hood River County are mainly in Parkdale.

“We have probably some of latest cherries in the valley just starting including Bings, Lapins and then Sweethearts,” he said.

He said production in the upper valley will continue to increase with some plots reaching full maturity in 2008-2010.

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Cherry coverage continues in the July 26 edition with a story on cherry market forces.

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