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US (OR): Weather affects Hood River fruit growers

There's a collective sigh of relief in the Hood River Valley of the Columbia River Gorge. Finally, there's sunshine, after weeks of  rain, cloudy days, and cool temperatures. Pears are the big crop in Hood River, and by this time in April, the pear trees would be bursting with blooms. But, because of the weather, that timetable's a little off. Steve Bickford's family has had an orchard just outside Hood River for four generations. He grows mostly pears, but also has apples and wine grapes for the family's Mount Hood Winery label. Bickford says the rain and cooler temperatures have already delayed the harvest by seven to ten days.

The pear harvest usually begins in mid-August. This year, it will more likely be late August or early September.  "As the days go on, they"ll start opening up", said Bickford about the pear blooms that are just now starting to appear. "The pink will become a big white flower". Bickford said, if it hadn't been so wet,  "we'd be seeing full bloom, and the bees would already be out pollinating everything." Steve Castagnoli, a horticulturalist with the Oregon State Extension Service in Hood River County, says the bees are key, and they're picky when it comes to the weather. "The honey bees, which we depend on for pollination,  don't really like to fly until it's like 55-degrees fahrenheit, they don't like to fly in the wind, and they don't like to fly in the rain. So, put all those things together, and it really reduces bee activity."

Castagnoli says fruit production alone is worth $80 million dollars to Hood River County.That doesn't approach the overall economic impact, when you count the jobs created, and services to the growers. The Hood River Valley is the largest producer of pears in the nation. So, growers like Steve Bickford  hope that spring is really here. He'd like to see it warm and dry for at least another week or so, to get mother nature's normal schedule back on track. Both Bickford and Castagnoli agree that the quality of the fruit  and the yields shouldn't be affected, just when the fruit is ready for picking.


Publication date: 4/19/2011


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