Photo: Sukhpaul Bal
A section shows the contract between the living green tissue and the dark dead flowers on a cherry tree branch.
The consensus is that this winter's cold snap will likely be the worst in a series of negative weather-related impacts for B.C.'s cherry growers.
“It doesn’t look good,” he says BC Cherry Association President Sukhpaul Bal.
Damage to the buds is being described as significant and widespread, but he does not yet have specific figures on how much of the harvest could be lost. He adds that members of the BC Cherry Association would be satisfied with just an average season at this point, given the frequency of damage over the past four to five years.
“2020 was a kind of freeze that lasted even longer… 2021 was the heat summit. 2022, from our research and looking back, you can call it the heat dome hangover,” Bal explained.
He says this was followed by a deep freeze in December 2022 that impacted last year's crop, and now last month's extreme cold snap. In some orchards the temperature dropped to -30 C.
“The reason it was so severe is because it was very mild before the cold snap hit,” said Bal, who calls it a silent disaster, unlike other extreme weather events like floods or fires.
He says volumes will fall and prices will be strong.
Although most orchards are insured, repeated claims are having an impact on coverage. That's why the industry wants governments to revamp support programs to reflect the impact of these repeated, extreme weather events.
“This is a new game and we are playing with these old rules and programs that were designed so that one out of every three years you have a bad harvest but come back the next two.”
“Before 2020, talking to our members, they remember maybe the last 30 years before these maybe three years where there was a substantial, short harvest. But those were spread out over many years.”
While he's not worried about the impact of the latest crop loss on the BC Cherry Association's global market share, he says it raises concerns about food security.
“I don’t think it’s just a question of cherry or grape. I think the food security situation is a topic that should be on the minds of legislators and representatives”, highlights Bal.
Grape crops in the Okanagan appear to have been devastated by the same cold snap.
That's why Bal says the association has been talking to the government about long-term solutions, including more water storage, given drought conditions are predicted again this year in many parts of the province.
“Over the last four or five years, we have been trying to give signals to the government that something has changed to these extremes and that puts us at a very high risk.”
Photo: Sukhpaul Bal
Bud damage on a cherry tree branch caused by extreme cold temperatures in January 2024.