Higher Temperatures Bring Challenges to California’s Cherry Industry

Being new to California, I find myself always amazed by the impressive variety of fruits and veggies available in the supermarket produce section here everyday. However, a newly released documentary co-produced by KQED and the Center for Investigative Reporting points out that things maybe changing. This half-hour documentary, titled Heat and Harvest, talks about the potentially profound threats brought by the climate crisis to California’s farm belt. Rising temperatures, reduced water resources, and increased pest and disease pressures are likely to negatively affect the prices and availability of local produce in California.

For cherry lovers like me, nothing compares with biting into the sweet and juicy goodness of a fresh cherry. So, what if one day we can no longer do that? Uncool Cherries, the first one of the three stories featured in Heat and Harvest, focuses on the threats and challenges that facing cherry growers near Stockton. Similar to wine grapes, cherries need a certain number of “chilling hours” to form perfect fruit. Specifically, a November or December chill is essential for most of the highest-quality cherry varieties in California to slow down the metabolism of their nascent fruits and thus prolong the ripening process that comes with the onset of warmer temperatures.

The shortened chill, as well as a lack of typical fog hours, is impacting the state’s cherry crop. This is linked not only to a fifty percent yield drop last year, but also to shrinking sizes and abnormal appearances of the fruit. For example, “doubling,” in which two cherries are fused like conjoined twins is a result of overheating. In addition, its causing cherries to ripen over a longer time period, which means increased labor costs during harvest.

The video concludes by asking “And who paid for the estimated 22 million dollars in California’s cherry losses last year? We did. Tax payers paid for over a third of that and will likely do so again in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).” In 1999, the USDA offered crop insurance for cherries for the first time. Last year, a record high of 22.5 million crop insurance was paid to California cherry growers.

If climate change is not addressed, more than cherries will be affected. In a 2010 report of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, particular attention was paid to the vulnerabilities of California, which produces 95 percent of the country’s apricots, almonds, artichokes, figs, kiwis, raisin grapes, olives, cling peaches, dried plums, persimmons, pistachios and walnuts.

CalCAN will continue its work to secure resources and remove barriers to sustainable agriculture solutions to climate change and also to provide support for producers to adapt to the coming challenges.

To view the documentary or for more information:

http://science.kqed.org/quest/video/heat-and-harvest/ or http://cironline.org/heatandharvest

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