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Early cherries see damage; midseason varieties okay

Orchardists with early ripening cherry varieties saw some significant cracking as a result of the heavy rains this past week, but cherry interests want to assure the public that there are still plenty of cherries for picking and eating.

“They were getting pretty red and took a pretty good hit,” said orchardist Dan Ericksen of the early crop. “We’ll evaluate what we’re going to do. We might divert those cherries into a different market to avoid trying to put poor quality on the market. We have an opportunity to brine them and could look at other processing markets.”

Bing cherries, a mid-season variety, were green enough to skate through with little damage. Bing is the longtime standby for local growers. Developed in the Pacific Northwest, the large, dark fruit ships well, but requires a dry summer to protect it from cracking.

“That’s one of the advantages of having all these new varieties,” Ericksen said. “Some are early, some are late, and very seldom are you going to get a weather event that damages them all.”

Ericksen expects to start picking in about a week, depending on what he decides to do with his early cherries.

Variety isn’t the only factor in cherry ripening times, noted Gip Redman, vice president of Field Services for Oregon Cherry Growers.

“Location, variety and elevation,” Redman said. “Elevation enters into that timing because there are so many hills and dales in The Dalles — so a lot of different timings. They all got drenched, but because of the different [ripening] times they’re going to be greener or riper and the greener ones didn’t get near the damage.

Early varieties like Chelan and Tieton experienced quite a bit of cracking, depending on their ripeness, Redman said.

“There’s not that big of tonnage in The Dalles area, because The Dalles is not an early area, compared to the whole Pacific Northwest,” Redman said. “It’s earlier than Hood River, yes, and earlier than Dufur, but a lot of early places in Washington pick fruit before The Dalles.”

Redman suspects those later areas sustained significantly less damage.

“There are still a lot of good cherries out there for the public to enjoy, and a lot of good cherries to be harvested,” he said.

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