Fresno County may request disaster declaration after 60 percent of cherry crop destroyed by rain

FERSNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's cherry season in the Central Valley.

Fred Rinder, the Fresno County Deputy Ag Commissioner, says it was going to be a great year for cherries - until the stormy weather hit California.

"In 40 years, this is the weirdest May I've been involved with," said Rinder.

All over the Valley cherries are popping up with blemishes, which means they will not be able to sell.

The loss of crop is so bad that Rinder is gathering information to request a disaster declaration.

Farmers and packing companies reporting their losses helps the county get a better picture of just how much damage was done.

Rinder said about 60% of the crop in the county was damaged, which would qualify the county for a disaster declaration.

However, if it gets approved, this will help farmers without crop insurance.

"For those who don't have crop insurance they will be eligible then for low-interest loans from the government. There's really no free money, just a low-interest loan," he explained.

Rinder mentioned he believes the majority of cherry growers here in Fresno County have crop insurance, but they are still collecting reports of damage.

Peter Ulibarri, the plant manager with KY Farming, said they are seeing the damage first hand and feeling the effects.

"They are cracking, rotting, splitting," he said.

KY receives cherries from all over the Valley. They are working hard to salvage what they can.

Ulibarri explained that with so much damage they had to hire on more workers to sift through all the cherries, making the cost to operate go up.

When the cherries get dropped off at the facility they go through quite the process.

First cherries get gently put in water, then up an elevator where the cherries will go through a stem cutter. The cherries will make their way down the line where workers will pick out the bad ones. Then they will go through a machine that takes an image of the cherry. If it gets the "okay" it will be sorted.

"It gets sized out from here and goes into a hydra cooler, which cools them down to 33 degrees, right before it goes and hits the table so they can grade it out and it goes straight into a box and into storage," Ulibarri explained.

Workers look through the cherries one more time before being boxing them.

Ulibarri said at the beginning of the month they were packing out about 80% of the cherries coming in but now that number has been cut in half.

Thousands of cherries have to be discarded because of damage.

"They are split open, they are rotting already. So this is what's being thrown out right now," he said.

Ulibarri added if temperatures warm up extremely after this, then there's the potential the cherries could pop and that would also put them in the discard pile.
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