Extreme heat came at worst possible time for Washington raspberry growers
Cool offshore flow and mild summer heat normally make western Washington an ideal place to grow red raspberries. The state commission for that crop reports growers here provide about 70 percent of the nation’s premium flash-frozen raspberries.
But the record heat has left immature berries sunburnt, while causing ripe ones to melt and shrivel on the vine.
Harvest time for red raspberries from Whatcom County normally happens in July, when they’re especially sweet and tangy. Before then, they’re very delicate.
“Raspberries are in a league of their own,” says 78-year-old grower John Clark of Clark’s Berry Farm in Lynden. He says strawberries, even blueberries, are hardier.
The record-high temps turn immature raspberries white on one side from sun exposure. That likely means they’re doomed to become puree at best. Others get so soft in the heat, they stick and shrivel on the vine.
“If they're mature, you know, if they're ripe and it gets hot enough, they'll kind of get so warm that -- we harvest them with machines and they won't drop off,” he says.
Most of the nation’s frozen red raspberries come from western Washington. Last year’s inventory was already low. Clark says berry lovers can expect shortages after this exceptional June heat.
He says he has never seen anything like the heat wave that started over the weekend.
“You know, this early in the year, in June,” Clark says.
“I‘m 78 years old and been here for 74 years – (seen) probably three and a half dozen 100-degree days. Not in June. And certainly not three in a row.”
He says some growers in eastern Washington or other warmer places use misting irrigation systems to cool the berries. But this heat event is so exceptional, growers on the westside are not equipped for that. The extent of damage will depend on how quickly the heat wave cools down and how dry it remains.