first_imgAs any native knows, the weather patterns in Montana in the summer are extremely unpredictable and can change at a moment’s notice. It’s common for a day to turn from blazing sunshine to a downpour of hail and rain in the course of a few hours. Yet the weather this summer, while still erratic, has been relatively kind to the Flathead Lake cherry crop. “There have been no bad storms. It’s been a good year; no spring frost, no major rain storms yet, knock on wood,” said Cody Herring of Glacier Fresh Orchards located near Yellow Bay.Herring explained that storms and extreme temperatures could be detrimental to the cherry crop. The cherries do best when the days stay between 80 to 90 degrees and the nights drop down to the 40s. “The heat has been fine but it’s nice that it has cooled down,” said Herring, referring to the string of days before the Fourth of July when temperatures hit 90 degrees and higher.While the heat didn’t kill the cherry crops it certainly speeded up the ripening process, meaning that harvesting will begin as early as July 20 in some places. According to Dale Nelson, president of the Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Association, the fruit around Polson typically ripens first and the orchards around Bigfork are the last to mature.Although the weather didn’t harm the crop at Glacier Fresh, Nelson said some members of the Growers Association experienced problems with frost, particularly in the Polson region and around Finley point. “The association usually produces 3 million pounds of cherries and this year we will see 60 percent of that,” Nelson said. The Growers Association, which is comprised of 80 growers around the lake, ships its cherries to Washington state to be processed, a relatively new practice. The growers used to package their own cherries but the workload became overwhelming. “It got to the point where we had so much fruit and the market got more and more complicated so eventually we hired a packing company out of Washington because they can get through it a lot faster and more professionally,” said NelsonUsing professional packaging and marketing companies has allowed the association to expand its market and begin selling to places like Costco and Walmart. Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. Flathead cherries are desirable to large chain supermarkets because they ripen later in the summer when the cherry trees in other places have exhausted their fruit. In fact, this spring several growers tore out old orchards and planted a total of 8,000 new trees that, once mature, should bear fruit into the end of August. “We are the latest geographic site in North America to grow cherries. There isn’t much on the market after August 8, so anything we produce after that is a plus,” said Nelson. “The goal with Costco and Walmart is to have cherries on Labor Day and that’s what we’ve been working towards,” he added. “We have some exclusive contracts with buyers in the U.S. who want to be involved with us because we can give them fruit later than anyone else in the world.” By eliminating the competition with other cherry producers by providing fruit later in the season Nelson and the Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Association hope to eliminate some of the economic problems that growers have faced in the past. “You either want to be the first person with cherries at the beginning of the season or the very last person at the end,” Nelson said. “We want to set ourselves apart from everyone else that grows cherries in the world.” Email Megan Lester, right, harvests a grouping of cherries with her father, Jeff Waldum, while picking with her family at Sinjem Cherry Orchards on the east side of Flathead Lake last year. – File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beaconlast_img read more

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