Treasure Valley frost warning affects cherry orchards

At 28 degrees, Gem Orchards in Emmett will begin to shed fruit, just before harvest.

EMMETT, Idaho — Cherries close to harvest — much like Lance Phillips’ crop at Gem Orchards in Emmett — are vulnerable to cold temperatures. Amid a frost warning through Monday evening, Phillips is working around the clock to save his fruit.

“You lose some sleep. But as farmers, that’s what you do,” Phillips said. “If we drop five or six degrees below our critical temperature, we could lose everything. That would be a year’s worth of income.”

At 28 degrees, Phillips expects to lose 10% of its cherries every hour. If the temperature drops to 24 degrees, Phillips expects 90% of his harvest. Phillips and other Orchards base these estimates on figures from Washington State University and Michigan State University.

“[It’s] devastating for us as farmers and ranchers who depend on this crop being ready and ready after we have already done 4 months of work to get everything ready and ready and irrigation and trees pruned,” said Phillips said.

To combat the cold temperatures, Phillips uses a combination of burr pots and fans. The pots burn diesel fuel and send out a 15 foot beam of hot air. Fans push this hot air through the cherry orchard to keep temperatures from dropping to critical levels.

Pots and fans can only raise temperatures by 2 or 3 degrees, Phillips said. He hopes that’s all it takes.

“We’re never 100% sure,” Phillips said. “Always watching, preparing and making sure everything is fueled and ready to go. We make sure everything is ready well in advance.”

Gem Orchards is a top supplier to the annual Emmett Cherry Festival, according to the Gem County Chamber of Commerce. If the fruit is lost due to freezing temperatures, prices could potentially rise to compensate for the lost product, according to Phillips.

An acre of cherries at Gem Orchards is worth between $10,000 and $15,000. Protecting the harvest is not only necessary for his livelihood, but also for the 8 seasonal workers on his staff, according to Phillips.

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