by Linda Mumma

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY (CBS13) — Rain is dampening the spirits of San Joaquin County cherry farmers. many of whom were expecting a record year for their crop, but now fear the wet weather may wipe it out.

“You get a lot of mold that’s one of the first issues. If you get real warm weather, the cherries actually split,” said Executive Director of the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau, Bruce Blodgett.

He said the desperate times are calling for desperate measures.

“This is the absolute worst weather you could have during harvest,” he added.

Right now, he said, cherry farmers are scrambling to protect what was expected to be the biggest cherry harvest in California history from being wiped out by the wet weather.

“It’s hitting the cherry farmers, hitting the hay farmers. There’s a lot of hay on the ground. People scrambling to try to get that taken care of too,” he added.

Some farmers are using large blowers to wick away water from the fruit.

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“Its people picking (the early varieties) right now that are getting hammered; absolutely hammered,” Blodgett said.

He said some of the larger cherry farmers are forking over large quantities of cash to hire helicopters and pickers to harvest as many cherries as they can before the next round of rain moves in.

“We were really excited about the potential crop out there. The crop hanging in the trees, but obviously this rain is creating a problem for us,” he said.

Some farmers are already seeing some damage.

“If there’s a big rain and it’s sunny after that it causes the fruit to split,” said Oscar Grotto who owns a seven-acre u-pick cherry farm.

Grotto says his u-pick cherry farm on Burge Road in Stockton is okay for now.

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“Our (Bing cherry) trees you can see they’re a little green still so the rain is not affecting them as much as an earlier variety like a Brooks or Chilean or Corrals.”

He said he fears for his neighbors though who are taking extreme measures to prevent a huge financial loss.

“Cherries fluctuate. In our county, sometimes by a hundred million dollars in terms of gross value,” said Blodgett.

In the latest San Joaquin County Agriculture Commissioners report in 2017, cherries ranked as the county’s fifth most valuable crop. Nearly 20,000 acres of cherries were harvested that year with a value of more than $184 million.

That’s compared to the previous year, which was also impacted by heavy rain. In 2016, cherries saw a 49% dip in yield; resulting in a value of just over $58 million.

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