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California Drought Hurting Bing Cherry Crop, But Rain May Not Help

LINDEN (CBS13) — You wouldn't know it by watching the workers and the seemingly unlimited stream of cherries going through Sambado and Sons plant, but this is not a good year for California cherries.

"It's average to below average at best," said marketing director Mark Calder.

A lack of water isn't the problem—it's the high temperatures in California's drought that are trouble for the San Joaquin Valley's bing cherries.

"Bing requires a certain amount of chill portions," he said. "Enough rest for the tree during the winter. The cherries come spring time, kind of wake up refreshed and ready to start bearing fruit."

2014 was too warm and less than half of the average crop of California cherries made it to market. Things were looking better this year, but a storm looming on Thursday is coming just as the bings are a few days from fully ripening.

"Unfortunately we're at the most vulnerable stage, the most susceptible to damage if it rains a lot. So if the water settles in the stem bowl area, the water seeps in the cherry and causes it to split," he said.

Cherries split because of osmosis. Cherries are 16 to 17 percent sugar. When the rainwater hits the cherry, it wants to get through the membrane, but evenly distribute the sugar. So, the cherry splits. There's nothing wrong with the cherry, but the industry prides itself on perfect and keeps all split cherries out of the market. That also requires hiring more workers to get them out.

If it does rain, cherry growers hope it also cools down.

"Cooler is better, but the thing that would help the most is if it were a little windy," he said.

A windblown cherry, dry for picking, is the best chance for a healthy crop.

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