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How Okanagan fruit trees are weathering dramatic shifts in temperatures

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With temperatures swinging from arctic to balmy and then back to chilly again, it’s only natural concerns would arise about one of this valley’s most precious exports — fruit.

“With any extreme weather changes you want to keep your eyes open,” B.C. Fruit Growers Association president Pinder Dhaliwal said.

“There was a scare in early January, where they predicted -25 C to -27 C — that would have been damaging.”

That prediction, however, never came to be, much to the relief of fruit growers.

The temperatures taken at orchards around the valley were somewhere in the area of -15 C to -19 C.

“So, we’re OK right now,” he said. “Around in the South Okanagan and the Central Okanagan, everything is sleeping and dormant and it’s been pretty good.”

But if 2019 is any indication, growers aren’t in the clear just yet.

Last year most of the damage was wrought over two weeks in February when temperatures plunged to as low as -23 C.

“It did affect the cherry crop, some places were patchy, because the buds got frozen,” Dhaliwal said. “It’s never good for trees when there are extremes and a nice warm spell is followed by frost, but so far, so good the orchardists I’ve spoken to."

A number of Okanagan apricot farmers experienced total crop failure in 2019 when frost rolled in.

Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Tree Fruit Growers Association said last year that it’s not totally uncommon for apricots to get knocked down by winter. The good thing is they only account for one per cent of the fruit grown in the area. They are, however, the  “canary in the coal mine" and can indicate what lies ahead for other fruits.

Cherries didn't seem to suffer that much from frost, but heavy rain did cause some damage.

Some orchardists said up to 50 per cent of their crop became damaged.

That was largely to do with heavy rains.

Statistics Canada reported that acreage devoted to sweet cherries in the Central Okanagan region grew 35.7 per cent between 2011 and 2016 to 2,146 acres.

Today, it’s estimated that the Okanagan has roughly 5,000 acres dedicated to cherries.

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