June’s historic heat wave in the Pacific NW took a major blow to cherry crop industry

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Cherries are pictured after been picked near Rincon de Soto, northern Spain, on June 14, 2021. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP) (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images)

Just a few weeks ago temperatures soared to unprecedented lengths in the Pacific Northwest. Portland, Oregon reached 116 degrees. Their hottest record of all time; shattering Austin’s current standing all-time record of 112 degrees.

These temperatures in the northwest are the statistical equivalent of Austin hitting 130 degrees. This does not happen without manmade climate change. On June 29, Lytton, a small town about 120 miles from Vancouver, hit 121 degrees, setting a national record for the highest temperature ever recorded across Canada. This record-breaking heat wave is blamed for more than 100 deaths in just the state of Oregon alone, according to the state’s medical examiner.

The heat wave had major impacts on agriculture and the crops along the Pacific Northwest. Wheat, a major crop grown in this area got scorched by the heatwave. Extreme heat and minimal rain will result in small plant size growth as well as less grain yield. Dry crop foliage will also severely enhance the wildfire risk for the months to come.

The Pacific Northwest grows most of the world’s cherries. This year’s cherry crop in the northwest states is estimated at 230,000 metric tons. This equates to 10s of millions of dollars for the industry. The heatwave, unfortunately, occurred during the heart of harvesting season. A blow to the industry, as many cherries were not able to grow to their normal full size. (Cell division within cherries are temporarily halted when subjected to extreme heat)

Farmers had to make adjustments in preparation for the heatwave not only to salvage the yield of the crops but also to keep the workers safe. Labor shifts were switched to harvest the cherries during the pre-dawn hours to avoid the brutal heat and prevent the workers from undergoing any heat-induced illnesses.

Many of the top layered cherries directly exposed to the sun were damaged by sunburn or shriveled/dried up by the extreme heat. According to harvesters, these cherries aren’t even worth it to salvage and turn into cherry juice as the demand/price for that is not worthwhile. They stated how it was better for them to be left to eat by the birds.

It is still a little too early to get the exact monetary extent of the damage in the Pacific Northwest. Luckily, forecasts for the next week in these areas have temperatures staying below 90 degrees. Giving farmers a chance to salvage some of their crops as well as get a complete monetary assessment of the damage. With that said, growers in British Columbia were able to gather a preliminary assessment. Pinder Dhaliwal, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, estimates that 50 to 70 percent of cherry crops were damaged in the heat wave. Dhaliwal said that apples, apricots and other stone fruits have also been damaged, though to a lesser degree.

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