Federal Natural Disaster Relief Available For Cherry Farmers After 2023 Erratic Weather

After one of the worst growing seasons on record, federal aid and loans have been made available to cherry farmers in 9 Oregon counties through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Farmers have eight months to apply for loans.

In 2023 farmers experienced one of the shortest ever cherry growing seasons since 1945 when tracking by the Oregon State University started. Production was down by 35% by the end of the season because of a long cool spring that saw excessive rain, followed by rapid warming and the resultant drought. Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek said on Friday in a news release that Oregon farmers were facing serious economic losses after last year’s season.


Oregon Announces Aid For Cherry Growers

Kotek announced that eligible cherry farmers can apply for federal aid and loans to make up for their 2023 losses. The first classification- defined as excessive rain that started July 7, applies to Hood River County as a primary county and includes Multnomah, Clackamas, and Wasco as contingent counties. The second classification-  defined as drought, excessive heat, and high winds occurring on July 5-15, applies to Wasco County as the primary county and extends to designated contingent counties named as Clackamas, Marion, Jefferson, Gilliam, Hood River, Wheeler, and Sherman counties.

USA Data confirms that in the Oregon agriculture industry- worth $5 billion a year, the sweet cherry industry had a bumper year in 2020 that saw almost $134 million in production, but this fell to $65 million by 2021- a drop of around 50%. This increased by just 5% in 2022 off the low base.

Oregon cherry farmers were paid $1.10 per pound for cherries in the summer of 2022 but this fell to less than 55 cents last year.  In California, the harvest season typically runs from mid-May through June, but started three weeks late last year. The erratic weather there caused a late harvest and this was compounded by smaller fruit harvests in Oregon, driving the price down.

California’s cherry harvest doubled in 2022, creating competition that drove down prices for Oregon’s cherry growers. Mike Doke- executive director of the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers Association- representing over 400 fruit growers in 5 counties in Oregon and Washington, indicated that in 2023 some of the growers considered leaving as much as half of their cherries unpicked because the cost of labor would have exceeded any profits from cherry sales.

Gov. Kotek said, “This designation is critical to ensure that farmers can receive federal government support in recuperating their losses.”

Cherry farmers who produce crops in any of the primary or contingent counties can get access to USDA aid here.
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