The helicopters help blow rainwater off ripening fruit
By Diego Flammini
Some B.C. farmers are looking to the skies for help with the fruit crops.
But rather than looking up in the hopes of rain, cherry farmers are employing helicopters to help dry the crops.
Allowing water to sit on the fruit can cause swelling, splitting or breaking the cherry – thereby spoiling it.
Bringing in helicopters can dry an acre of cherries in under five minutes.
“Flying a helicopter just above the treetops produces a downwash of air and turbulence which blows most of the of the rainwater off the leaves and cherries,” the B.C. Cherry Association says. “The turbulence rebounds from the ground providing side wash, blowing the trees dry on both sides.”
Farmers also charter helicopters to help crops in other ways.
In 2022, cherry producers booked helicopters to push warmer air down towards the trees.
But employing the choppers isn’t a decision farmers make without reason.
It can cost a farmer between $1,000 and $1,600 per hour.
“Hiring helicopters is not something we undertake lightly,” Sukhpaul Bal, president of the B.C. Cherry Association (BCCA), told CBC. “They are very expensive, and if there was another way to save our crop, we would.”
Cherries are important to B.C. agriculture.
The province produces 95 per cent of all cherries grown in Canada, the BCCA says. The Okanagan Valley, the Similkameen Valley and Creston Valley are the main cherry-growing areas.
The B.C. cherry industry contributes about $180 million to the province’s economy each year.
And in 2021, Canada exported $78 million of sweet cherries.