The ins and outs of cherry harvest

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Cherry harvest has begun in the Okanagan Valley.

Which, as Sukhpaul Bal, president of the B.C. Cherry Association, explains in this week’s Farmer Rapid Fire on RealAg Radio, is later than usual.

The late harvest season is a result of a cooler spring, like most of Western Canada experienced. However, the heat has finally come, and it’s pushed the cherries to maturity.

As Bal explains, cherry harvest is a labour intensive process— starting between four and five a.m., or basically whenever it’s safe for the workers to be climbing on ladders, until the heat of the day.

“It’s a really, really, busy morning,” he says. “Workers out there majority are piecework, so pay by the pound. So they do like that because they can move quicker, pick a lot of cherries, they can make good money. We’ve got some of our foreign workers and locals, backpackers, they push upwards of $30/hour picking cherries.”

The harvest lasts about six weeks — depending on when the first frost of the season comes.

Once the cherries are in the crates is when some newer technology really comes into play, says Bal, starting with scales in the orchard.

“The workers put their bucket onto the scale, the scale speaks to them to scan their RFID card — their worker badge — and the exact pounds that were in that bucket get attached to the workers account,” he explains. “So at the end of the day they clock out and get a receipt, to the point-two-five of a pound. The machine is called Fair Pick, because it’s fairly paying them for what they’re picking.”

From there, the cherries head to the packing house, which is also full of technology.

The cameras and computers in the facility process upwards of 60 pictures of every single cherry, in the timespan of half a second, says Bal.

“A puff of air jets the cherry into the right lane, where it goes in to get inspected on more time by staff, and then into a box,” he says.

Check out the full conversation between Bal and RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney, below:

 

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