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Mammoth-sized cherry orchard near Kamloops gears up for second harvest season

Image Credit: PEXELS

- This story was originally published April 9, 2022.

A 500-acre farm in Pritchard is preparing for its second busy harvest season, as a whopping 200 acres of the land is covered with cherry trees.

Thompson Farm is owned by Jealous Fruits, a family-owned and operated company with several orchards throughout the Okanagan Valley. Operations expanded to the Pritchard location a few years ago.

Neil De Jager is the farm manager.

He said steady progress was made in planting more trees and developing farm systems last year, despite setbacks by the extreme weather events and COVID-19. If all goes well this year, he predicts trees planted in both 2019 and 2020 will produce hundreds of tons of cherries.

READ MORE: Massive cherry packing facility opens in Kelowna

“Typically our first year is not as productive as everyone thinks it is,” De Jager said. “We didn’t produce too much last year. The number of cherries produced will get bigger every year.”

The orchards in Kamloops and the Okanagan bring in seasonal workers in the summertime from several different countries, and cities and towns across Canada. Last year pandemic restrictions resulted in a staffing shortage on the farms.

“We picked what we needed and had to leave the rest on the trees,” De Jager said. “Hopefully this year we’ll be able to pick and ship all of the fruit.”

READ MORE: Why Kamloops doesn't (yet) share the Okanagan's bounty of tree-fruits

Seasonal workers are housed in camps installed on the Thompson Farm and arrangements for a brand new camp are being finalized.

Last summer’s heat dome was another hurdle for De Jager. He said the extreme temperatures over 40 Celcius lasted for a week.

“The biggest weather issues of course is extreme heat and extreme cold,” he said. “The cherries didn’t like the extreme heat last summer and some started to shrivel. Severe cold can damage trees and buds, which we mitigate with wind machines. We constantly have to keep an eye on temperatures.”

READ MORE: EXPLAINER: 'Heat dome' atop Northwest sends temps soaring

Initially water was being pumped all the way up to the farm from the river, a considerable distance away and on a steep slope. 

“We recently put in a ground reservoir on a bench halfway up so the system is far more efficient,” De Jager said. “For the most part we use a drip irrigation system to conserve as much water as possible. We switch to micro sprinklers when it gets really hot until the fruit has ripened, then switch back.”

The Thompson Farm in Pritchard, Kamloops has 200 acres of cherry trees, photo taken April 5, 2022.
The Thompson Farm in Pritchard, Kamloops has 200 acres of cherry trees, photo taken April 5, 2022.

The company operates 19 orchards in the Okanagan Valley. When asked why it took so long to get set up in the Kamloops area, De Jager said company owner David Geen was waiting for the right piece of agricultural land to come up for sale. 

“David is always looking for land and opportunities,” he said. “This property came up for sale about six years ago and he bought it. We monitored the climate on the farm for 2.5 years before we pulled the trigger and started planting on it. For a substantial sized farm like this, there is a lot of homework to do to ensure it will be a success. David is knowledgeable about how to approach it.”

De Jager said Pritchard turned out to be right for cherries, being a semi-arid desert with similar climates the company measured in Vernon and Kelowna.

READ MORE: Penticton's iconic Peach will stay a peach as it gets new operators

The company ships by sea and air to several countries around the world, the biggest markets being in China and Korea, where the fruit is seen as a luxurious treat.

“We can pick, wash and pack cherries on a Monday and by Friday they will be in Korea,” he said. “In some of these areas the cherries are put into fancy packaging and given to others as gifts, much like we might gift a bottle of expensive wine.”

The farm is growing apples on 30 acres and doing a test with some peach trees to see how well they grow.

The cherries can be purchased by locals between the end of July and beginning of September at the packing plant in Winfield by the Kelowna airport.

The company is considering the idea of selling to locals in and around Kamloops in the future, as well as a possible berry plantation with a U-pick option for families.

For more information or to apply for a job picking cherries go here.

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