San Joaquin County cherries withstand uneven rain losses

In mid-May, San Joaquin County cherry orchards got a rehash of last year's disastrous late-season rains, but this time the damage appears far more limited.

"It's pretty spotty in terms of where there's damage, but it's not widespread," said Tim Pelican, the San Joaquin County agricultural commissioner. Based on reports from packinghouses, he estimated 10% to 15% of the crop may have been damaged.

The rain gauges around the area showed 0.19 to 0.52 inch fell during this year's May storms, according to Mohamed Nouri, a University of California Cooperative Extension orchard advisor in San Joaquin  County, with cherries in the Escalon area being among the most affected. Rain this late in the season can overload a cherry with moisture, causing the fruit to split. That renders the cherry unsalable except for processing.

Cherry farmers run their blowers through their orchards as soon as possible after a rain to wick away the water, he added.  "We're still a couple of weeks out from the end of the season. It is a lighter yield but a higher quality."

San Joaquin County had 19,900 acres of cherries in 2018, yielding 21,900 tons of fruit worth $89.7 million, according to the county crop report. The same acreage had produced 61,800 tons worth $184.6 million in 2017. Pelican said the 2019 crop report was still being assembled but estimated the loss rate from last year's rains at 60%. Prior to the rain, the 2019 crop was expected to be a record 10.4 million boxes, as reported in Ag Alert® last year.

Cherry grower Jake Samuel of Linden said he was looking forward to a better 2020. Before the rain, "everything was going great," Samuel said. "Beautiful quality, great yields."

He'd already brought in early varieties and was starting work on the Bing harvest when the rains came May 17. Samuel used blowers on the trees between storms May 17 and May 18.

Temperature plays an important role in the rate of cherry fruit cracking, more water is taken up when the temperature is warm following rain, causing the cherry to expand and split.

In anticipation of a heat wave predicted to begin around Memorial Day, Samuel said his next concern was finishing harvest. The rain cost him and his crews two days of work, and he anticipated working through the holiday weekend.


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