KELOWNA, B.C. — Some cherry farmers in British Columbia are using helicopters to push warm air over their trees as unseasonably cool temperatures threaten this year's cherry crop even before the fruit has formed.
Sukhpaul Bal, president of the B.C. Cherry Growers Association, said helicopters create an airflow rather than letting cool air sit over orchards, potentially damage buds waiting to blossom.
"We're getting into spring. Buds are starting to open up and blossoms are not too far down the road," he said. "So, around this time of year, we don't like to see too much cold weather."
Environment Canada meteorologist Dave Wray attributed the below-seasonal temperatures to a cold air mass that has settled over the province.
Temperatures have been about seven degrees below normal over the past week, he said.
"There were quite a number of temperature records broken across the province."
Bal said he is grateful that the cherry orchards haven't had snow like in some parts of the United States.
Cherry farmers and other fruit growers have endured much recently, as swinging weather patterns in the province led to fires, floods and last year's so-called heat dome where the temperatures neared 50 C in some parts of B.C., he said.
"The extreme shifts in the climate are challenging to farms."
Added to the burden for the farming community is the labour shortage, Bal said.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has said the industry had a chronic labour shortage even before the arrival of COVID-19.
Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said earlier this year that the physical nature of work in farms and the rural and isolated locations are some of the reasons for the labour shortage.
COVID-19 caused agriculture producers to lose about $2.9 billion in 2020 because of the inability to find workers, said Robinson.
Bal said he's hoping the weather returns to more seasonable temperatures before the buds bloom.
Some of the fruit begins to ripen in the first or second week of June, with several other varieties ready for harvest in August, he said.
It's a bit early to tell if the cold has damaged the crop, he added.
"Overall, we're still optimistic considering what could have happened. We're still looking for a strong crop this year."
Wray said temperatures should climb toward more seasonal temperatures by the weekend.
"April's an interesting month," he said. "Historically, it can be quite chilly. Other years, it'll be nice and warm, like last year. So, this happens to be one of those cooler years."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2022.
The Canadian Press