What those helicopters were doing in Okanagan orchards last week | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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What those helicopters were doing in Okanagan orchards last week

FILE. Cherries from B.C. orchards are a hot commodity.
February 16, 2021 - 8:00 AM

Compared to last week’s deep freeze, weather in B.C.’s Southern interior will be almost balmy in the days ahead which should take some of the pressure off area farmers.

As was reported by people living near cherry farms up and down the Okanagan valley, helicopters were deployed to orchards as temperatures plummeted. They stirred up the air as well as a heavy dose of community comment.

While some area residents complained about the noise and the disturbance, Glen Lucas from the B.C. Fruit Growers Association explained that it’s imperative for farmers to get out there when the mercury falls.

“Wind machines —the towers with large propellers attached that you see in orchards— and helicopters are used to 'mix' the air due to temperature inversion,”  Lucas said.  

“The inversion occurs when a colder layer of air lays on the orchard and there is a warmer later above this blanket.”

The reason to be concerned about sudden cold weather inversions, he said, is that fruit buds can be damaged, causing the fruit to die before it can be pollinated in the spring.  

“While some fruit damage can be offset by the remaining fruit being of larger size, at some point the level of damage causes significant economic loss,” he said.  

“Thus, growers hire helicopters or turn on wind machines to mix the air and reduce crop loss.”

David Geen, VP of the cherry growers association and co-owner of Coral Beach Farms, said in an earlier interview with iNFOnews that the industry’s steady growth has prompted orchardists to find more farmland for their cherry crops and he’s personally behind turning a new leaf in some of the aforementioned spaces.

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.

Last year, Geen said he thought the Okanagan had around 5,000 acres dedicated to cherries.

It’s an impressive number on its own, but even more when compared to where things were in the 1970s when cherry farmers really saw their crop “fizzle out” after a couple of decades of success.

At that point, the total amount of cherry-dedicated farmland was in the range of 500 acres in the Okanagan.

There are a couple of good reasons for the turnaround.

Part of the reason, he said, is that until the 1970s, winters were a lot more intense. Okanagan Lake had a tendency to freeze over once every eight years, and the damage to trees in those times was devastating.

“We still get cold winters, and it is possible to get winter damage in trees, but the likelihood and severity are much less,” he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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