Washington storm ravages tree fruit crop - The Packer

Washington storm ravages tree fruit crop

08/22/2002 12:00:00 AM
Tom Lister

(Aug. 22) A windstorm that raged through north central Washington in the early hours of Aug. 16 ultimately could take 1 million to 1.5 million cartons of apples off the fresh market, said Charlie Pomianek, manager of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, Wenatchee.

The storm, which started in Canada, swept south 60 or 70 miles along the Okanogan Valley, hitting hardest between Oroville, Wash., and Omak, Wash., said Tim Smith, an extension agent for the north central Washington tree fruit area. About 14,000 acres of tree fruit, mostly a mix of apples and pears, lie in the area hit by the storm, Smith said.

Recent estimates before the storm called for Washington’s 2002 fresh-market apple crop to reach 88.8 million boxes. That figure may have been revised Aug. 22-23 in Chicago at the annual conference of the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va.

Pomianek said some members of the pear industry reported that the windstorm hadn’t caused a major reduction in their crop and that they didn’t plan to adjust their crop estimate.

Smith said the storm left probably 60,000 bins of apples and pears —with a bin normally yielding 17 boxes of packed fruit — on the ground. Further losses will come from fruit that remains on trees but was damaged.

Dan Fletcher, senior agricultural consultant for Gold Digger Apples Inc., Oroville, who said winds reach 76 mph, cited the potential for bruising and wind rubs, among other damage.

It was the most severe tree damage he’d seen from a storm, he said. Younger trees were hurt especially, he said.

The company’s losses for fruit blown off trees could reach $7 million, Fletcher said.

For now, Gold Digger’s employees are busy harvesting peaches, nectarines and bartlett pears. In their spare time, they’ll prop trees back up and try to further assess losses, Fletcher said.

Smith doesn’t expect Washington’s overall apple crop to be hurt, but the storm losses will be a severe blow to the Okanogan Valley, which has just begun to emerge from an economic slump.

Of the 400 tree fruit growers in the area, about half suffered significant damage, he said.

Smith said it was the first time for people in the valley to see a windstorm as strong as this one, which reached 50 mph to 75 mph.

“That’s a disaster in any fruit-growing area,” he said.



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