Joyce and Bob Owen have a five-acre orchard that used to be covered in 1,000 cherry trees. They started B and J Orchards in Emmett during the 1990s when Bob Owen retired from his job at IBM and poured all his money and time into growing cherries.
Now, both are 67 years old. The Emmett couple have largely retired from the cherry orchard business and removed all but eight trees. The trees are bare this year, thanks to a bout of crazy spring weather. That means no "u-pick" for locals to fill their baskets with cherries, and no income from the crop, Joyce Owen said.
"Mother Nature's not nice any year," she said. "Sometimes it stays too cold for so long that the bees have to wear long johns to go out and pollinate."
This year was particularly brutal. Warm temperatures early in the season woke up the trees to start blooming. Then frost dropped in for a few annihilating nights. The thermometer plunged to 24 degrees three mornings. A chill such as that typically costs a farmer 90 percent of the cherry crop, said Al Dimmick, who owns Cherrystone Orchard in Emmett.
For other tree-grown fruits, however, it has been a good season. Some farmers in the Valley say they'll have plenty of apricots, peaches and apples, which weren't as susceptible to the freeze.
Apple orchards in eastern Idaho are looking forward to a healthy crop this fall, after hail storms and poorly timed frosts ruined their past two seasons, according to the Capital Press, which covers agriculture in the West.
Most of the Treasure Valley's cherry orchards are bare or close to it.
Emmett's 79th annual cherry festival runs Wednesday through Saturday. It will be first-come, first-pick for whatever's available, according to the Gem County Chamber of Commerce.
Tyler's Rocky Point Orchard in Emmett has less than 10 percent of the cherries it had last year, said Scott Tyler, who manages the family-owned orchard. Of the 600 trees in the orchard, only 100 to 150 are bearing fruit.
"We're going to have enough of a crop to have a u-pick season," he said last week, before the orchard opened. "Commercial sales are definitely not going to happen. ... This year was by far the worst (frost damage) we've seen in 10 years."
The cherries that survived, he said, are plump and ripe.
Orchard owners say the losses won't bankrupt them. Alan Benson, who owns Benson Orchards, said most cherry farmers have full-time jobs or are retired.
The local farmers might receive payouts from crop insurance, but they're not optimistic about recouping their losses.
"We're happy if the farm breaks even after I get a salary out of it, but this year is a bit tricky," Tyler said.
Other fruits will pick up slack from the lost cherries, he said. Rocky Point has its most abundant apricot crop ever, a "great" apple crop and some peaches and blueberries that Tyler can sell at farmer's markets. The weather favored apricot pollination, and the apricot trees were in a warmer location, he said.
The Owens usually net a couple of thousand dollars from a monthlong picking season, Joyce Owen said. The money supplements their Social Security income.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey