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Roasted on the vine: Heat dome threatens NW berry harvest this summer

caption: A raspberry dried on the vine.
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A raspberry dried on the vine.
Isolde Raftery / KUOW

Blueberries from Oregon to B.C. are being baked on the bush. Raspberries too. Growers are calling the heat damage catastrophic.

Most West Coast blueberry growers were just getting ready to harvest when the heat dome hit in late June. The berries got soft, but not ripe. Some were burned from the intense sun.

The still-green berries now have brown seeds inside indicating they are sun-damaged and might fall off the bush or stop growing. That’s crushing news to an industry that produces more than 80% of the nation's blueberries from July through September. Growers warn it could lead to nationwide shortages later this summer.

“We think there is damage coming that hasn’t revealed itself,” said Alan Schreiber who leads the Washington Blueberry Commission.

Schreiber said that growers won’t know how extensive the damage is until later this summer. Blueberries grown in central Oregon were also affected.

Raspberries roasted on the vine

Much of this year’s Northwest raspberries and blackberries are doomed to juice. It tastes good. But juice doesn’t pay growers as much.

Fresh berries at the grocery store mainly come from California and Mexico. But frozen berries in sacks that are often slated for blenders — that is mostly Northwest-grown fruit.

Northwest raspberry growers were just getting ready to pick the seasonal crop when the heat dome arrived. Now those berries are mostly dehydrated, or roasted on the vine. As much as 90% of the crop could be damaged. It is currently difficult to know the extent.

“Our berries are typically gonna be harvested maybe 15 to 17 times through the month of July, or about every other day thereabouts into August,” said says Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission. “The first number of picks are going to be affected for sure which is where the highest volume is.”

Oregon blackberries are damaged, too.

“Well, they’re shriveled up, there isn’t a lot of moisture left in them anymore,” Bierlink said.

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