Fruit growers reeling after storm tears through Oliver

Veteran producers say it's the worst weather damage they've ever seen

Fruit growers in the Oliver area are still reeling and assessing the damage after a storm tore through the region last week.

A storm late Thursday afternoon brought driving rain in the Penticton area, but by the time it reached Covert Farms north of Oliver, the severity had increased.

“It was just devastating. We got the wind and the rain and hail It was very violent. I lived here all my life and I never saw one like this,” said Greg Norton, a grower in the Willowbrook Road area, who said the storm damage extends from just north of Oliver to as far south as Road 16.

“First time in 25 years.

“It’s just unbelievably devastating and now the peaches are rotting.”

Norton estimates he lost about a third of his peach crop, all the fruit remaining on the trees, including one late variety he hadn’t begun to pick.

The financial extent of the damage is still awaiting assessment, but he expects it to be severe.

“It just tore the peaches wide open, they’re done,” said Norton.

While he has lost a lot of the profit from his crop, Norton already had cherries picked and a good portion of his peaches so he considers himself lucky compared to his neighbours who are heavily invested in apples.

“I feel fortunate. If you are going to get a disaster, at least it’s at the end of the season,” said Norton, noting that apple growers were just getting ready for their first pick of the season. I don’t have any apples, but my neighbours do and it’s awful.”

“We just got annihilated,” said Rick Duarte. “They are all pretty much for juice, there is nothing salvageable for the fresh market.”

Duarte feels sure that SunRype has enough demand to take care of the large amount of apples available for juice, but said there is another problem for apple growers.

While the packing house is accepting dented apples for juicing, they are turning away apples where the hail has pierced the skin.

“The packing house is telling growers who have blocks like that they are not accepting those apples for juice, whereas ones like mine, which are banged up and bruised, they will accept,” said Duarte.

This isn’t the first time this year Duarte has had weather damage.  In early May, he was hit by frosts that took out 70 per cent of his cherry crop.

“Hail is the cruelest of all the challenges we face,” said Norton.

Rain can be fought by drying the crop out with helicopters and wind machines, giving the grower hope the crop can be saved, but hail damage is instantaneous.

“I am way beyond bruised. I counted up to 15 hits on one peach,” said Norton.

“I tried to salvage some this morning. I picked two bags and I was halfway through the block and I could only find two bags full of decent peaches. It’s just absolutely wiped out.”

Doug Lundquist, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said that while this storm wasn’t unusual, they are usually weakening by this time of year.

“Usually by the end of August, beginning of September, the storm season is waning a bit,” said Lundquist. “So this severe storm is later in the season than typical, maybe by a couple of weeks.”

However, he warns the area isn’t done with storms yet; another series of thunderstorms, possibly with heavy rainfall, are expected later this week in the South Okanagan.