Cracked Light Sweet Cherries on Johnson Farms on the Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo
Cracked Light Sweet Cherries on Johnson Farms | Jane Boursaw Photo
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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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Light Sweet Cherries on the Johnson Farms Cooling Pad, Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo
Light Sweet Cherries on the Johnson Farms Cooling Pad | Jane Boursaw Photo

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.

Cracked Dark Sweet Cherries on Johnson Farms on the Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo
Cracked Dark Sweet Cherries on Johnson Farms | Jane Boursaw Photo

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.

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A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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