Good Fruit Grower

July 1

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16 JULY 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER I t's never easy being a cherry grower, especially this year if you're a California cherry grower. Cherries there were hit hard by the drought—not from lack of water but lack of winter chill hours. Cherry production in California was revolutionized more than a decade ago with development of early varieties, like Brooks and Tulare, which are less prone to dou- bling and spurs when grown in a warm region. Most early varieties also have lower chill requirements. For example, Bing requires 900 hours of chilling compared with 400 hours for Tulare. In the last decade or so, sweet cherries have been on a rapid growth curve in California, with orchards planted in nearly all parts of the San Joaquin Valley, well beyond the traditional cherry-growing area known as the Lodi district. Cherries are now one of the highest value crops in Kern County, the southernmost part of California's fertile San Joaquin Valley once known for oil production. Early season cherries, most of which are exported to Japan and other Asian markets, can fetch outrageous prices. The profit- able crop has even enticed growers from 1,500 miles away, like Wenatchee, Washington's Kyle Mathison, to plant cherry orchards in the county. But for many California cherry growers, 2014 was not a profitable cherry year. In fact, for those who didn't even pick their cherries, it was downright dismal. Good Fruit Grower visited California in May in preparation for this report. Tule fog California's San Joaquin Valley is known for its tule fog, a mist so dense that the sun can be blocked from view for weeks at a time. In normal weather years, fog occurs 40 to 50 days. But fog needs moisture from the ground to be created, and California, locked in a severe drought since the 2010-2011 season, received scant rainfall last winter. Fog plays a key role in the winter chill accumulation for the valley's stone fruit. It blocks solar radiation and keeps temperatures from warming in the daytime, making daytime temperatures 20 degrees colder than otherwise. "The tule fog just didn't arrive last winter," said Patrick Archibeque, chief executive officer of Rivermaid Trading Company in Lodi, California. Cherries were one of the crops most adversely affected from the lack of fog. The dry winter didn't help much either. Without enough chill hours to put trees at complete rest or dormancy, bloom was impacted. Low chill is always an issue for cherries grown in the southern district (Kern, Kings, Fresno, and Madera counties), which is warmer than the northern district. But this year, growers throughout the state saw a prolonged bloom period, erratic bloom, and uneven leafing on the tree, resulting in poor fruit set. The crop was also about two weeks earlier than normal. LOW CHILL HURTS California cherry crop Lack of winter tule fog impacted fruit set. by Melissa Hansen John Lucchetti at Rivermaid Trading Company checks photos of cherries taken by cameras that are part of optical sorting technology that sorts for defects, color, and size. Summer Fruits

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