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Washington cherry crop faces challenges of heat wave, wildfires

Freshly picked cherries sit in a bin on May 21, 2018, in Acampo, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Cherry growers in Washington say they lost about 20% of this year’s crop during the late June heat wave.

Washington cherry harvest caught in coronavirus crosshairs

The Washington State Fruit Commission’s James Michael says temperatures were as high as 115 degrees in some growing areas, and flowers and fruit dried up on the vine.

“It just slowly cooks the fruit, like a de-hydrater,” he said.

“There’s been a few orchards that were just a total loss. The harvesting will not improve and it isn’t really worth the cost of getting in there, safely harvesting,” he explained.

Even though the late June heat wave put cherry harvesting on hold and wiped out some of the crop, new fruit has ripened since.

Additionally, other stone fruit trees — like peaches, nectarines, prunes, plums, and apricots — tolerate heat better. So for those, Michael says a good season of stone fruits can still be expected this year.

Summer cherries’ Northwest roots grow back to the 1840s

Now, Michael says some orchard growers are again battling to harvest as wildfires and smoke is slowing down the pickers in some areas. That won’t affect the taste of the cherries, but some wine grapes have been ruined by a smoky taste.

“They have a smooth, glossier skin so some of the issues the wine industry is wrestling with have yet to be such an issue for the actual cherries themselves,” he said.

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