Recent cold temperatures and snow could put an early end to British Columbia’s fruit season. Balpreet Gill with the Oliver, B.C.-based Gold Star Fruit Company Ltd. says the Okanagan region had a very warm October with record-breaking temperatures of 30º Celsius.
“Then suddenly 10 days ago, the weather took a sharp decline and we’ve actually been experiencing very cold nights and snow,” says Gill. “There’s still crop on the trees so a lot of grape and apple growers now have their product covered in snow and they’re having difficulty harvesting and are losing product on the trees. Finding labor is also a problem because working in -3º Celsius in snow-filled fields is difficult.”
Record lows for the region overnight reached -11º Celsius with daytime lows at +2º Celsius.
Later start to season
Gill estimates that for apple growers in the region, approximately 90 percent of the crop was off and growers were working through later varieties such as Pink Lady. However, grape growers only had 3/4 of the crop off before the first snow hit. “Most growers want to finish before October 31,” says Gill. “But this year, harvest started two to three weeks late so growers were pushed into November. So the weather went from being extremely warm to a sudden shift to cold and now we’re getting snow flurries.”
Before the cold temperatures hit, the region’s apple crop was already set to be a short one. With this turn in the weather, it could take an additional 10 percent off the crop.
While there’s immediate interest in the remaining fruit on the trees, there are also concerns over what lies ahead next spring. “A lot of orchards, their trees were still “awake” when the cold hit. So now they’ve got bright green leaves stuck onto trees that didn’t turn red and yellow and fall off. It’s almost like we didn’t have a fall.”
Growers are also concerned about their cherry and peach trees. “With the trees still alive and with these negative temperatures, they’re susceptible to bud damage or winter frost damage,” says Gill. “Some orchards did hit dormancy but most are wide awake with green leaves covered in snow.”