‘There’s always a risk’: Cherry growing in the Okanagan a high-stakes gamble

Growing cherries, according to most Okanagan orchardists, is a high-stakes gamble.

“There’s always a risk,” said the president of the B.C. Cherry Association, Sukhpaul Bal.

One main reason is because when it comes to help from Mother Nature, the odds aren’t always in your favour.

“Out of five seasons, if you can get three seasons, excellent ones, I think you’re doing pretty well” Bal said.

This year, though, the Okanagan weather hasn’t exactly co-operated.

“We’re going to be facing a lighter crop this season,” said Bal.

“Last week, we had a big rainfall overnight and it really took a number on the crop this year,” Oliver cherry grower Parminder Sidhu told Global News.

In the South Okanagan, where some growers have already started picking cherries, the numbers aren’t good.

“We have been seeing fluctuating from 40 per cent splits all the way up to 90 per cent splits” Sidhu said.

Along with early season frost, substantial rainfall can be a cherry grower’s worst enemy.

“The rain comes, the cherries absorb it,” Sidhu explained.

It’s a problem that becomes exponentially worse as cherries start to ripen.

“They don’t have room to grow and it just starts cracking, cracking away at the skin,” said Sidhu.

The resulting fruit is a complete loss for the grower.

“Those cherries are definitely not sellable afterwords,” Sidhu said.

In terms of money, Sidhu said he’s looking at a big loss this year.

“Upwards of a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Sidhu admitted, though he added crop insurance can help reduce the overall loss.

“But it’s hard to get payment from crop insurance unless your entire crop is affected,” Sidhu said.

So Sidhu is left hoping that the market price for cherries he’s able to get packed will help offset his losses.

Still, for those in the business, it’s all part of growing the iconic Okanagan fruit.

“That’s why everybody doesn’t farm cherries,” said Bal, “because it’s not for the faint of heart.”

“It’s the weather,” said Sidhu. “You gotta live with it.”

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