by Deborah Pfeiffer Castanet
Harman Bahniwal was packing up cherries in his family’s orchard last Friday when a storm unlike anything he had seen before rolled in. He and his fruit pickers quickly found shelter under a shed roof, but the fruit trees on the Oliver property did not fare as well. Bahniwal estimates around 50 cherry trees were felled by the high winds and heavy rains that day. “The winds were strong enough to blow over a light person and they blew a lot of trees down. Then the rains came and damaged the fruit as well,” he said. “It will be a bad money losing season, which is hard when you have been here a long time.” It was a similar story at other orchards and vineyards in the Oliver area, after the severe storm, which also caused power outages, toppled big trees and damaged structures throughout the Okanagan, left the area.
Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, said he was unaware of widespread damage to crops, but there were some localized problems between Oliver and Osoyoos. Overall though he does not want to raise alarm bells at this time because that does more harm than good to growers. Most of the growers say they are just hoping to salvage a halfway decent crop this year. In the orchard Bahniwal works in for his father, they have propped the cherry trees that fell down back up, but there is no guarantee the trees will remain healthy, They have also used helicopters to blow rain off the fruit, but that can cost in the thousands of dollars. “Crop insurance covers the damage, but it’s still a big loss,” he said. “There’s just not much you can do about Mother Nature.”
Balvir Dhaliwal , who moved from Abbotsford to Oliver just last year to run an orchard, shares the pain. Around 50 apple trees and 12 peach trees were knocked over during the wind storm on his 12 acre property. “I was standing inside watching the wind, rain, thunder and lightning and thinking my God I am losing all my trees,” he said. “The Royal Galas are by far my biggest crop and now I have to clean up, replant and hope some of the trees are alright.” Balwinder Dhaliwal, a relative who owns close to 140 acres of grapes from Oliver to Osoyoos, said Friday’s hail also caused damage to vineyards. Like other growers, he too is now playing a waiting game. “I moved here from India in 1993 and this was the worst storm I have ever seen in July by far,” he said. “In July and August we need dry and hot weather, so I worry about climate changes and what more storms will do to the quality of our crops.”
Photo by Bennest
From a CBC report – B.C. Tree Fruits declared that it was expecting a huge crop of 8 million pounds of cherries – nearly doubling last year’s crop.
Then persistent severe weather began to ruin the fruit, says orchardist Greg Norton.
“If it’s not every day it’s every other day and at the most I don’t think we’ve had a three-day stretch this year where we haven’t had to deal with weather. I mean that’s just so unusual.”
Orchardists estimate millions in crop losses.
Norton says a thunderstorm Friday knocked 15 per cent of the peaches off the trees in his orchards near Oliver, B.C.
“We’re just trying the best we can and every morning we wake up and try and make something out of a bad deal, you know. And some days we win, and some days we don’t,” said Norton.
Norton estimates 40 to 50 per cent of his cherries are split.
He says so far, he’s spent thousands of dollars hiring helicopters to blow the rain off the fruit, but the damage is so bad he’s simply abandoning 2 hectares of cherries – it’s just not worth the labour.
“Never done this before, never had to make these kinds of decisions,” he said.