Warm January, bitterly cold February bad for stone fruit harvest

Don’t expect locally grown apricots this year, but cherry crop should be healthy

The pear tree in the yard of Meryl Grant’s Westsyde home has shown signs of life a lot later than usual this year.

At the beginning of May, the tree is usually in full blossom. As April gave way to May a few weeks ago, Grant’s pear tree had only a few to spare.

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She doesn’t expect it to bear much fruit and figures a winter cold snap is to blame.

She’s correct.

An “extremely mild” winter followed by a plunge in temperatures in February is the cause, according to Thompson Rivers University horticulture programs co-ordinator Ernest Phillips.

Phillips said the cold snap would most immediately affect stone fruits like apricots, peaches and nectarines.

The crop loss occurred because fruit trees’ floral buds, which are initiated in the previous growing season before hardening for winter, began to “wake up” with the warm weather, losing their hardiness and being killed by the February cold snap, Phillips said.

This year, Kamloops endured the fifth-coldest February in record, according to Environment Canada data. Phillips said it’s an event that happens every five to seven years.

The cold snap affected fruit trees throughout the region, according to BC Fruit Growers' Association general manager Glen Lucas. He said crop losses have happened before, but noted apricots amount to only 1.3 per cent of crops grown in the Thompson-Okanagan, with just 190 acres among the 14,600 acres tracked by BCFGA, based on the organization’s 2016 census.

“It tends to be a minor crop that people grow amongst their major crops because it’s such a high-risk crop for our area,” Lucas said.

The largest planting of apricots Lucas could recall is 10 acres in Lake Country, between Kelowna and Vernon, which he said will produce no fruit this year.

“People know it’s very sensitive to the cold and are generally prepared to have losses every few years. That the whole crop is lost, it’s not common, but it has happened before,” he said.

Lucas said at this stage, he hasn’t heard anything too unusual about other stone fruits, and although he said some cherry blossoms were affected, more trees are maturing in the region each year due to planting, meaning this year’s crop volume will actually increase.

When asked if climate change has a role to play, Phillips said it did.

“Part of the problem is that we are now planting things in this area that at one time we didn’t,” he said.

He said apricots have always grown in the area, but other fruits like peaches, nectarines and certain varieties of grapes are only able to be grown because climate change allows people to “push the boundaries.”

Phillips said a worse version of the apricot crop failure could occur if trees are killed due to root damage, caused by a cold snap while there is a lack of snow cover insulating the ground and the roots underneath it.

“Roots, unlike the upper part of the tree, do not go dormant for the winter,” he said. “Yes, the ground may freeze — they can handle -5 C — but they can’t handle -15 C.”

© Kamloops This Week


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