British Columbia

B.C. heat wave 'cooks' fruit crops on the branch in sweltering Okanagan and Fraser valleys

Temperatures hovered above 40 C during last week's heat wave in the Okanagan and Fraser valleys.

Up to 75% of some fruits too damaged to sell fresh, according to farmers

Perfect cherries like these could be in short supply in B.C. this year as growers deal with extreme heat, which has also damaged blueberries, raspberries and apples. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

The heat wave that scorched Western Canada last week severely damaged fruit crops in the Okanagan and Fraser valleys, as the province's two major fruit-growing regions saw multiple days of temperatures above 40 C.

Pinder Dhaliwal, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, estimates that 50 to 70 per cent of cherry crops were damaged in the heat wave. Dhaliwal said that apples, apricots and other stone fruits have also been damaged, though to a lesser degree. 

According to Dhaliwal, the heat wave "cooked" cherries right in the orchard, noting that they are brown in colour with burnt leaves and dry stems.

"It seems like somebody took a blowtorch to it and just singed it," says the orchardist from Oliver, in B.C.'s southern Interior. 

Dhaliwal added that because nighttime temperatures were also high, the cherries did not have time to cool down between the sweltering days. Some cherries that look good on the outside have been cooked on the inside and are hot right to the pit, he said. 

'It's just so discouraging'

Sukhpal Bal, a fruit farmer in Kelowna and president of the B.C. Cherry Association, noted that there was a heavy cherry crop this season before the heat wave, one of the best he has seen in 20 years of experience. 

LISTEN | Bal talks to Daybreak South:

Cherry crops in the BC Interior have been burned due to the extreme temperatures brought by the heat wave at the end of June 8:57

"It's just so discouraging to see that this heat wave came in and literally cooked a lot of the cherries." Bal said his cherries are also discoloured, with burnt skins. 

"It's not pretty, it's not something that can be marketable by the time we get to harvest these cherries." 

Bal said most of the cherries are too damaged to even be used for juices or purees. 

While there a lot of cherries are still in good shape, Bal said that they will have to see how they ripen as the heat continues.

With nighttime temperatures of around 30 C, fruits had little time to cool down between scorching days. Pictured is a normal blueberry crop. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

Fraser Valley damage

Raspberries and blueberries have taken the biggest hit at David Mutz's Abbotsford farm in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver.

"The plants are literally just cooked. You can pull the leaves off and they just crinkle in your hands," he said. 

Mutz noted the most drastic damage was caused over the three-day period between Saturday, June 26, and Monday, June 28. 

Mutz estimates that 75 per cent of the early raspberry crop and between 10 and 30 per cent of the blueberry crop are of such poor quality that they can only be used for juice.

Financial hit for farmers

Dhaliwal said "farmers wait an entire year to pick this harvest … the overall financial impact is going to be great on the farmers."

The B.C. Fruit Growers Association says many farmers have crop insurance for heat stress, but the compensation is much less than what a healthy crop would earn.

Nevertheless, Mutz is optimistic that the later season will be profitable, as they pick raspberries until October.  

Bal noted that this is the third year in a row where extreme weather events have damaged the cherry crop, citing torrential rain in 2019 and a frigid cold spell in January of 2020.

John Bayley, the president of B.C. Grape Growers' Association and a viticulturist based in Okanagan Falls, says grapes in his vineyards have survived the heat wave, but they may get a taint of smoke as a result of wildfires across the B.C. Interior.

"They're most susceptible to receiving those compounds which give you the smoke taint characteristics," he told Dominika Lirette, the guest host of CBC's Daybreak South. "There's no way to really determine to what degree they [the characteristics] will be present in wine — it depends on the length of the time smoke is present, how intense the smoke is."  

Although many farmers have insurance for heat events, the compensation will not compare to profits they could make during a good crop season. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Gomez is a CBC News Researcher in Vancouver. You can contact her at michelle.gomez@cbc.ca.

With files from David French and Daybreak South

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