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Local Rainier crop sustains some damage

Some cherry growers in the area were hit hard by rains over the weekend that resulted in bruised fruit and damaged trees. While the destruction appears to be localized, it could have an impact on the crop of Rainier cherries this year.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Lighthouse Farms Manager Chelsea Durfey of the weekend wind and rain storm damage that covered the Yakima Valley.

“The Rainier cherries suffered a lot of bruising,” she added.

The winds and rain that swept through the Lower Valley late last week also did a lot of damage to the tops of the cherry trees, she said.

Just a few miles away in Grandview, Bill’s Berry Farm didn’t suffer as much from the storm. But, Bill Michner of Bill’s Berry Farm said his Rainier cherries did sustain a few scuffs and bruises from the wind.

“There’s occasional thimble splits,” he said. However, the splits haven’t impacted a large part of his orchards.

Overall, the damage seems restricted to the Lower Valley.

“I haven’t had anyone tell me we’ve had any cracking so far,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Northwest Cherry Growers. “I haven’t heard a peep.”

Cool nights have prevented damage in most areas, but Thurlby said his heart goes out to the growers of yellow cherries like the Rainier.

“The yellow crop is already down,” he said. “Growers have a real opportunity in Rainiers this year because of a high demand, but the wind has been bad on the crop.”

Thurlby said the Rainier crop was estimated to be about 1.5 million boxes this year, which is a “decent-sized” crop. But picking through the damaged crop will be difficult.

“The Rainiers are hand-picked, so they can avoid the damaged fruit,” he said. “But it’s going to be frustrating because there’s a really strong demand on Rainiers.

“Let’s hope the damage isn’t too strenuous,” he added.

In Grandview, Michner said his Bing cherries and other reds had no significant damage.

“We are just trying to dry them out,” he said, noting his pickers were unable to work today (Tuesday) because of the amount of water still on the cherries as a result of last night’s rain.

Michner said the evenings last week were cool and dry, preventing damage from earlier rain storms. The cherries were able to dry overnight and didn’t sustain damage from the weather.

“What I am seeing now is that there is no significant damage,” said Michner. “I haven’t gotten into the tops yet. We will be able to see the tops of the trees tomorrow. So far, it looks minimal.”

Many growers in the area are already harvesting crops. Thurlby said he had heard from growers in Roosevelt, Zillah and Tieton who also did not sustain significant damage from the storms. He expects new information over the next few days will give a better idea of how the storms may have impacted the Rainier cherry crop.

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