Cherries are ripening in Summerland orchards. Because of the recent extreme heat, there are risks of damage to fruit crops, including fruit burning while on the trees. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)

Cherries are ripening in Summerland orchards. Because of the recent extreme heat, there are risks of damage to fruit crops, including fruit burning while on the trees. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)

Extreme heat puts fruit Okanagan crops at risk

Prolonged hot weather results in some fruit burning while still on the trees

Record-breaking heat and continuing hot weather are taking a toll on fruit crops.

“There’s definitely some crop loss, no question about it,” said Steve Brown, a fruit grower in Summerland. In some cases, as much as 60 per cent of a crop could be lost by the extreme heat, depending on the fruit varieties and growing conditions.

When temperatures are excessively hot, fruit can burn while it is on the tree. The result is the fruit turning a yellow or brown colour.

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In addition, some fruits, such as cherries, can be baked on the tree during extreme heat. The ruined fruit cannot be salvaged when this happens, he said. When temperatures top 40 C, some fruit will experience this damage.

In late June, temperatures exceeded 40 C, reaching 44.7 C in Summerland on June 30. The previous high temperature for that date had been 37 C, and the hottest temperature ever recorded in the community was 40.0, on July 16 and 17, 1941.

In Lytton, temperatures reached 49.6 C on June 29. Before 2021, the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada had been 45.0 C, set in two Saskatchewan communities in 1937.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Brown said of the recent hot weather. He has noticed more weather extremes in recent years, including unseasonably hot temperatures and other unusual conditions.

He said the best course of action would be to curb climate change as much as possible. However, he added that this is a long-term solution.

In the short term, some methods include shade cloths on top of fruit crops, sunscreen sprays to prevent fruit from burning and overhead cooling systems to reduce the temperatures in orchards.

Each of these methods has significant drawbacks, Brown said. In addition, profit margins are slim for fruit growers, and the costs of adding any of these measures are substantial.

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