No Fruit? Yamhill Co. Story~
In case any of you have been wondering if you're alone with this years lousy fruit production (Western Oregon's Willamette Valley
), the following story is the "talk of my neighborhood."
I've not seen a worse
year for fruit production in the last 20+... I'm wandering around fruit starved - among my 27 fruit trees! The figs are finally ripening, so I'll soon get my fill; but I'm sure glad my livelihood doesn't depend on my tree crops!
the following article did
have paragraphs... I just couldn't get them to transfer ~ Viron
Orchardists seek disaster declaration
Published: August 6, 2005
http://www.newsregister.com/news/story. ... _no=196812
By YVETTE SAARINEN
Of the News-Register
Yamhill County's stone fruit crop is a disaster, by any standard, but local growers are seeking a formal federal declaration to that effect. Producers of cherries, plums, peaches and other fruits with stones, commonly known as pits, are facing a 50 percent to 99 percent loss of yield this year in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Yamhill County is among the hardest hit. The county's crop figures to run only about 10 percent of last year, according to Yamhill grower Lee Schrepel, chairman of the Oregon Tart Cherry Association and owner of Fruithill. Weather was the culprit, Schrepel said. The Willamette Valley experienced a mild, dry winter, which led to an early spring and equally early bloom on the fruit trees. Just as the blossoms made their premature appearance, it began to rain. Stone fruit blossoms must be pollinated by bees in order to develop into fruit. Unpollenated blossoms simply fall off and blow away. Local growers use bees from California to do the pollenating. The bees follow a circuit that takes them through California, Oregon and Washington. Growers were able to bring the bees in early. Schrepel set his in the orchards on March 20 instead of April 1. An unseasonable rain turned a springlike winter into a winterlike spring, Schrepel said. He said the cool, moist weather promptly grounded the bees. Honeybees don't like temperatures much below 60 degrees, and will not take flight in the rain, Schrepel said. "Raindrops are like missiles coming at the bees," he said. Schrepel knew early on that he and his fellow orchardists were facing a bad set of circumstances. He thought he might see a 30 percent fruit set, but that was optimistic by 20 percentage points. He got 10. Then it rained, and rained, and rained. What little fruit growers had on trees began cracking or rotting. Schrepel said Fruithill, located off Highway 240 in Yamhill, lives or dies on the tart cherry crop. Orchards that historically yield 1,000 to 2,000 pounds an acre are yielding 100 to 200 pounds. Some growers didn't even bother to harvest their fruit. It usually takes Schrepel nine days to bring in his cherries. This year, it took two. Fruithill's cherry harvest traditionally provides work for eight or nine families. But Schrepel had little work for them. In addition to tart cherries, Schrepel grows Italian plums, and they aren't doing any better. Normally, he harvests his plums around Labor Day, but on a recent tour of the orchard, he was hard pressed to find a single plum. According to Oregon State University's Agriculture and Resource Economic Department, Oregon's tart red cherry production was valued at $1.1 million in 2002, $704,000 in 2003 and $1.6 million in 2004. Growers averaged 4,200 pounds per acre last year on 1,075 acres. The crop topped 4.5 million pounds, bringing 35 cents a pound. Figures are still trickling in, but it looks as if Oregon only produced about 300,000 pounds this year, a record low. Scarcity normally drives prices up, partially compensating, however, the big player in the tart cherry market is Michigan, and it had a good year. Officials are estimating Michigan's 2005 tart cherry production at 115 million pounds, topping figures for the two preceding years. A price difference is more likely to be seen in sweet cherry products, according to Bruce Moore, manager of Gray & Co.'s Dayton receiving, brining and pitting plant. That includes products like maraschino cherries, cherry cordials and ice cream with cherries in it. The Dayton plant prepares cherries for its Forest Grove and Midwest operations. The crop is down and competition for the fruit is up, Moore said. "We're going to see what the market can bear," he predicted. He said his company has seen these kind of slumps before and weathers the storm by keeping operational costs down and being more efficient. Schrepel thinks he can weather a single bad year as well. What worries him is the possibility of back-to-back bad years. "I don't know if that's weatherable," he said. The Oregon Tart Cherry Association is leading the way in seeking federal relief, but growers of other stone fruits aren't faring much better and have joined the effort. Stone fruit growers began by asking Jeff Olsen, orchard specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, to prepare an assessment. Congressman David Wu signed on in support, as did county commissioners, the federal Farm Service Agency, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Governor's Office. They then presented a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, seeking a disaster declaration that would help them qualify for a measure of relief. A Farm Service Agency spokesman said the petition is under consideration. A disaster declaration would qualify stone fruit growers suffering at least a 30 percent crop loss for federal loans. Limited as it may be, that's the only relief mechanism open to them, according to an ODA spokesman. Schrepel said there is one other bright note. A Eugene beekeeper is in the process of developing a strain of what he calls "orchard mason bees." He says they tolerate cool, wet conditions better than ordinary bees. Schrepel has agreed to do a trial run on an isolated block in his orchards next spring.[/b]