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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington cherry growers to get federal loans after USDA declares 2023 harvest a disaster

A worker picks Skeena cherries from a ladder in an orchard owned by Rowe Farms in Naches, Wash.  (Evan Abell / Yakima Herald-Republic)

WASHINGTON – Harsh weather made 2023 a bad year for Washington state cherry growers, but help is on the way after the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday granted Gov. Jay Inslee’s request for a federal disaster declaration.

The decision means growers in 22 Washington counties and six counties in Oregon are each eligible for up to $500,000 in emergency loans. All 12 members of Washington’s congressional delegation sent a bipartisan letter Feb. 1 asking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to approve the request that Inslee, a Democrat, made in November.

“Last year, Washington’s cherry growers lost around half their crop to extreme weather,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a statement. “Now, as they prepare to kick off their new season, this disaster designation from the Secretary of Agriculture will help growers access federal assistance to keep this $1 billion industry going – and ensure Washington’s famously delicious sweet cherries make it into shopping carts.”

The emergency loans can be used to pay essential living expenses, replace essential property, cover production costs, reorganize farm operations and refinance some debts, according to the USDA. To qualify, a county must see at least a 30% reduction in crops or prices.

“Through no fault of their own, our cherry growers experienced immense challenges and economic losses last season, with data showing growers experienced losses of more than 50 percent,” said Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat whose district includes Chelan and Kittitas counties.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican who represents many of the affected counties in central Washington, called the declaration “a step in the right direction to getting things back on track.”

In their letter to Vilsack, the lawmakers explained that a quick transition from a cold spring to an unseasonably hot April shortened the sweet cherry harvest on the West Coast, forcing Northwest growers to leave as much as 35% of the crop unharvested, while some producers suffered losses over 50%.

In a statement, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., thanked President Joe Biden and his administration “for always supporting Washington state growers.”

The primary counties in the disaster declaration are Adams, Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Okanogan, Walla Walla and Yakima. Adjacent counties in Washington that are also eligible include Columbia, Ferry, King, Lewis, Lincoln, Pierce, Skagit, Skamania, Snohomish, Whatcom and Whitman. In Oregon, Gilliam, Hood River, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla and Wasco counties are also eligible.