Rain ruins some cherries in central Washington

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YAKIMA — Recent showers have been bad news for some cherry growers in central Washington.

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports growers have been trying to prevent wet cherries from splitting by drying them with wind turbines, air sprayers and hiring helicopters to fly over their orchards.

One copter crashed Monday while drying trees in Grant County and the sheriff’s office says the pilot was taken to a hospital with a back injury.

The amount of crop damage depends on a variety of factors and the loss won’t be determined for a while. But the president of the Northwest Cherry Growers, B.J. Thurlby, estimates about 25 percent of the Bing cherry crop has been lost.

“At this point I just feel so sorry for the growers,” Thurlby said. “We don’t know if we’re going to have fruit day-to-day.”

The weather feels bad, and is bad for the unlucky growers it picks on, but overall it’s really not much worse than other recent years, said Nic Loyd, a meteorologist with Washington State University’s Agricultural Weather Network, a system of 146 automated weather stations throughout the state.

“It’s been a very strange month . it just ends up being where you are,” Loyd said.

Central Washington has experienced several cool, wet Junes over the past five or six years, he said. In fact, 2011 was the coolest spring since the station began keeping records in 1989.

What makes this year’s rains stand out is that they followed a hot May. And in many places, the rain is incessant and often localized. For example, a swath of Yakima and Benton counties near Grandview has received 1.3 inches so far this year, while the West Valley region has been hit with 0.11 inches, less than 10 percent of that, according to maps posted on the network’s website.

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