Meeker variety, especially young plants hurt most by late cold 

WHATCOM ­— Wintry cold and windy weather that arrived in February is believed to have caused significant damage to local raspberry plants, growers say.

The 2018-19 winter was mild through January, so that canes were getting close to budding out, and then the late adverse weather hit, especially damaging young plantings.

“It’s always the babies that struggle the most,” said veteran Lynden grower Randy Honcoop, who will see no production from 10 acres he planted last year.

He expects that same story will be true for most other 2018 plantings of Whatcom County growers.

Also, the very established Meeker variety and the newer Wakefield seem to have been more impacted than others types.

It’s always difficult to quantify at this point to what extent the damage that appears on plants will translate into less fruit, but “it’s not so good, of course,” Honcoop said.

Grower Rob Dhaliwal of the family operation on Van Dyk Road said he expects “quite a bit” of damage impact from the February cold and wind. 

Temperatures got as low as 14 degrees and winds were 25 miles per hour sustained, with gusts into the 60s, in mid-February. Snow also came and schools were cancelled across Whatcom County the week of Feb. 11-15.

Plants’ patterns tend to respond to what the weather is around them, and “they don’t know what day of the month it is,” Dhaliwal said.

Looking at what they see, or not, on canes as of last week, growers contacted said the damage in Meekers could cut production from one-third to two-thirds. Damge in new plants is pretty much total.

Dhaliwal estimated the reduction in buds to be about 30 percent.

The effects vary field to field, he added, and that is the way he will make decisions as to how much time and money to spend to try to recoup losses.

Lynden is the epicenter of production of red raspberries for processing in North America. Tonnage in Whatcom County from about 9,500 acres is typically close to 70 million pounds. It’s an anchor local industry.

Whatcom is also growing in blueberry production, but that entirely different kind of berry does not seem to have been hurt as much by the February 2019 harsh weather.

Also, prices for frozen raspberries for processing remain depressed below a break-even price for farmers, according to the Lynden-based Washington Red Raspberry Commission.

Honcoop, who is vice president of the WRRC board of directors, said it has been a few years since Whatcom County’s raspberry varieties have been tested by winter weather.

“It doesn’t make us feel so good as farmers when the fields look pretty sparse out there,” he said.