Helicopters to the rescue of rain-soaked Okanagan cherries - InfoNews

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Helicopters to the rescue of rain-soaked Okanagan cherries

Image Credit: PEXELS
June 21, 2019 - 6:00 PM

KELOWNA - It may be noisy for neighbours, but Okanagan orchardists are calling in the helicopters to help dry off rain-soaked cherries before they split and lose most of their value.

Cherries are a rapidly growing industry in the Okanagan. According to Statistics Canada, the acreage used for sweet cherries has increased by 35.7 per cent between 2011 and 2016. The B.C. Cherry Association reported that last year, cherries contributed $80 million to B.C.’s economy in exports alone.

As the Okanagan’s winters are seldom cold enough to do widespread damage to the trees, cherry crops have done very well here. However, for some cherry farmers this year’s rainfall has been causing some problems.

When rain pools around the stem of the cherry or beads on the fruit’s skin, the water is quickly absorbed into the cherry. This causes the flesh of the fruit to swell and expand, more than the skin can stretch.

"We get to a stage when it gets close to harvest that the skin can’t expand anymore," explains Sukhpaul Bal, part-owner of Hillcrest Orchards. "You get a splitting because of that excess water."

Bal himself has been using a helicopter to dry his cherries in light of the recent rainfalls. The helicopter flies over the Bal's trees anywhere between an hour to an hour and a half. It costs $1200 to $1500 per helicopter, per hour.

Although expensive, this method is often imperative. If enough cherries split, a farmer may have to simply walk away from the crop, as the cost of labour exceeds the returns on the split fruit, which can't be sold fresh.

Bal explains that most of his neighbours are understanding of the noise.

"A lot of people that live near farms have to understand that farming is noisy," said Bal, laughing. "Overall, we get positive responses from the public."


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