Helicopters being used to keep cherry orchards dry in the Valley

Helicopters are most commonly used for dusting Valley crops with chemicals, but right now they are being used to blast air on cherry orchards up and down the Central Valley.

The late-season rain can cause the cherries to swell and split and lose their value. Pilot Mark Trinkle of Kingsburg says it's a challenge using a helicopter as a giant blow drier.

You don't want to be too high, especially if there is a light breeze.

"You want your downrush located straight above the tree, but you don't want to be too low, that you are breaking branches off the tree, knocking fruit off or anything like that. "

Growers usually count on a stiff breeze following a storm to dry the orchards but these storms have been coming quickly, sending pickers running for cover, and leaving the cherries on the trees.

Helicopters are an expensive substitute, costing $1,200 to $1,800 an hour to fly, but cherries can bring in $10,000 an acre.

Ryan Jacobsen of the Fresno County Farm Bureau says growers have to save what they can.

"Cherries, because of their very high value and obviously the perishability that goes along with these rainstorms make the helicopters pencil out."

But Jacobsen says if it keeps raining, the damage can send the value of the cherry crop plunging.

"This year is going to be interesting to see where the price pencils out, because it's a very good crop but actually these storms are going to hamper the crop as to what is actually harvested and so price is yet to be determined."

California Cherries are shipped all over the country and a third of the crop goes overseas.

The big markets are China, Japan and Korea.

This year the trees are bursting with fruit, and the hope is helicopters and pilots like Mark Trinkle can help make sure it gets to market.

"If there's no wind to help dry that fruit off, the helicopters are really important then."

The California cherry crop has an estimated value of nearly $300 million. Most cherries are grown in the Lodi area, but nearly a third of the crop comes from Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera counties.
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