Cherry crops survive Monday’s rain – for the most part

Francisco Garcia dumps a container of freshly harvested Bing cherries into a container of water on the back of a tractor to be transported back for packaging Tuesday at Andy's Orchard.

Most local cherry farmers “dodged a bullet” Monday when thunder bellowed in the sky and 0.20 inches of rain pelted Gilroy for a good several hours into the early afternoon.

While several growers initially anticipated to “lose most, if not all of their crops to splitting,” according to Executive Director Jennifer Williams with the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau, the precipitation only lasted a few hours. Ensuing wind gales – which helped expedite the drying of the fruit – proved to be the second saving grace.

“It appears that we dodged a bullet, and (the rain) did not have any effect, other than we stopped harvesting and cut our day short,” observed Ralph Santos of Gilroy-based El Camino Produce, which owns Ralph’s Cherry Hut at 4450 Monterey Rd.

After moderate inclines in warm weather for Gilroy last month, Monday’s sporadic downpour and average temperatures in the low 60s seemed to appear out of left field.

However, “we typically have rain in June,” said forecaster Steve Anderson with the National Weather Service in Monterey. “I would say it’s a little unusual, but not unheard of.”

Anderson said Monday’s watery weather pattern was similar to last year, when there was 0.26 inches of rain on June 4, 2011.

But unlike June 2011, Monday’s outcome wasn’t “devastating” for cherry growers such as Santos, who last year was only able to salvage 25 percent of what he picked.

In previous seasons, a gamut of Gilroy and Morgan Hill cherry growers have lost as much as 50 percent of their cherry crops due to steady spring showers that seeped into the fruit and caused it to crack open.

Luckily, “it seems like the fruit is still unharmed,” said Santos, who cultivates about 175 acres of cherry trees.

At least one farmer suffered negative effects from Monday’s stormy skies.

Paul Mirassou with B&T Farms expects to see splitting in 1 to 5 percent of the cherries growing on his 76 acres situated east of the Gilroy Outlets.

“It looks like we’re going to be picking tomorrow,” he said. “We expect to lose a certain amount of cherries.”

Other growers from Christopher and Van Dyke ranches said they fared all right, despite Monday’s rain.

While Peter Van Dyke noted that “sometimes, the damage doesn’t happen right away,” he said things are looking OK since the blustery wind came through Monday and helped dry everything off.

Garlic mogul Bill Christopher said the cherries at Christopher Ranch made it through “just fine” and that workers will be harvesting the fruit today.

Over in Morgan Hill, Andy Mariani of Andy’s Orchard took an airborne approach to precaution.

The noted fruit expert hired a helicopter to hover over his orchard and blow moisture off the crops.

While the aircraft flies low and causes some of the cherries to bruise during the process, “you’re trading one possible defect against another,” said Mariani. “You’re minimizing the cracking but get a little scarring from the fruit hitting each other.”

For the longtime grower who lost 40 percent of his cherries due to April showers two seasons ago, paying between $800 to $900 an hour for the helicopter is a measure that gave him “peace of mind.”

“Cherries is a one-shot thing,” Mariani told the Dispatch back in 2010. “All your eggs are in a basket. And someone runs over your basket, and that’s it.”

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