Cherry harvest is in full swing on the Old Mission Peninsula, but unpredictable weather and Covid-19 concerns have brought trying times for cherry farmers. As with everything else this year, the cherry crop is a little topsy-turvy.
While the start of harvest was about the same as last year, the hot temperatures and massive rains over the past week have sped up the ripening process. Many OMP farmers are already done with sweets and heading into tarts, while some are harvesting both sweets and tarts at the same time.
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The heat and rain, including this weekend’s downpour, are also causing the cherries to crack – although “explode” might be a better word.
Much of that cracked fruit is being rejected by processors, who grade the fruit on a scale up to 100 percent. When that happens, farmers are forced to dump the fruit on the ground – which has already happened this year.
Covid-19 is also creating its own havoc. Johnson Farms (my family’s farm) is shipping about half the number of sweet cherries to their processor as in previous years – 140 boxes per day this year as compared to about 280 last year.
My niece, Heatherlyn Johnson, who runs the farm’s cooling pad north of Mapleton (where cherries are cooled in cold water before being shipped downstate), said that’s partly because the processing plants are operating with fewer workers right now due to Covid-19 protocols.
“Every year is different chaos,” she said on a July 19 Facebook post noting that Day Four of the 2020 Cherry Harvest felt like Day 20. “Storms, damaged fruit, breakdowns, miscommunications. Makes for a rough time.”
However, if the tart cherries can keep their quality and avoid cracking, farmers will earn a premium rate of 50 cents per pound. That would be good news in these trying times.