ELK GROVE (CBS13) – Cherry farmers are gearing up for harvesting season this week. But with rain in the forecast next week, many are worried their California cherries won’t make it.
“Every cherry grower is nervous,” said Ron Oneto, a farmer at KLM Ranches. “Everybody probably in their houses is probably quiet during the weather forecast time. Everybody’s watching their phones and updates on weather.”
No season is quite the same at KLM Ranches in Elk Grove, but this year the fields have seen a lot more water than normal.
“The rain kept coming and coming as everybody knows we’re what two times the normal rainfall,” Oneto said. “Mother Nature is something I can’t control. I have to live with her.”
Farmers try to protect the cherries as best they can but even an inch of rain can be devastating for the cherries ready to be picked. Oneto says he’s tried putting wax on the cherries to block the water and drying them off with helicopters but nothing really works.
“It doesn’t make any difference if it’s an 1/8 of an inch, a quarter of an inch, it could be two inches, the cherries will crack,” he explained.
A cherry split down to the pit can be saved for juice but there are only so many that manufacturers will buy. The rest go to waste, which drives farmer revenue down and grocery store cherry prices up. After several months of rain, some farmers still have other work piled up that has to get done too.”
“We’ve only been running these tractors for the last three weeks when we should have been running them for the last six weeks,” Oneto said.
And on top of the backlog of weed spraying and mowing, Oneto and his brother Ken are concerned there may not be enough cherry pickers around to hire.
“There’s a transition from the south to the north so there might be a lag coming up from Fresno area this way,” he explained.
Even when a cherry splits, farmers still have to pick the cherries or the tree will suffer. So farmers still have to pay labor on those cherries and people at the stores may have to pay more.
The harvesting starts this week and lasts until mid-June.