Cool weather brings late start, and hidden blessing, for California cherries
by Rand Green | May 06, 2010
Rain at or just prior to harvest time can devastate cherries by causing the fruit
to split. But in spite of an unusually wet spring in California's San Joaquin
Valley, most of the early cherry varieties in the valley escaped serious damage
due to a happy coincidence: the spring weather in the valley has been
unseasonably cool as well as uncharacteristically rainy. The cool temperatures
have delayed the maturity of the crop, so most of the cherries that saw rain
were still too small and too green for the rain to do much damage.
April is normally a relatively dry month for the valley, which historically
receives most of its rainfall during the winter months. But this year,
rainstorms swept through the valley and across much of California nearly
every week from mid-March through the fourth week of April.
Fortunately, damage to cherry crops from the rain was "minimal," according
to Michael Jameson, proprietor of Tristone International in Fresno, CA, which
is the exclusive sales agent for cherries for Morada Produce Co. LP in
Mr. Jameson told The Produce News May 5 that "most of the fruit was too
immature yet" to be damaged by the rain. "There was a little bit of rain
damage on the front end of the Brooks," one of the earlier varieties, but the
damage amounted to "less than 1 percent of the overall crop."
In those few cherry orchards that were far enough along to be damaged by
the rain, any damaged fruit has already been picked off and sorted out. "Now
we are getting into stuff that is packing out great and looking super," Mr.
Jameson said. "I think we are going to have a great run on Brooks and
Tulares, and then right on into the other varieties" such as Corals, Chelans
The cool weather "has definitely pushed back the anticipated start date quite
a bit" for cherry orchards throughout the valley, as well as the dates by which
significant volumes are expected for each variety, he said. "It is one of the
slower starts we have had in years."
If the weather had been warmer between the rainstorms, allowing the fruit to
mature more quickly, then "we would have had some real problems" from the
rain, he said. "But the cooler weather pushed back the harvest so the fruit
was immature when the rain hit and we had limited damage."
Maurice (Mo) Cameron, managing partner of Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC in
Hanford, CA, which markets fruit for Warmerdam Packing LLC, said May 5
that the early cherry varieties in the San Joaquin Valley are "almost a week
behind" normal. The very early cherries to be picked in orchards at the
southern end of the valley were "vastly affected by rain damage," he said, but
it did not constitute a significant share of the crop, and the rain splits are
"pretty much going away" in subsequent picks. "I don't see any crop size
reduction," he said.
Volume was beginning to pick up, and "we'll be in our stride next week," he
The cherries were also fortunate to avoid any significant damage from the
hail that accompanied the April 12 storm and caused damage to other crops
over various parts of the San Joaquin Valley.
"I haven't seen any hail-damaged fruit come in yet," said Mr. Cameron,
adding that he has seen only "very isolated hail marks" on cherries in the field
and "nothing at all of significance in our orchards."
Mr. Jameson concurred that hail damage to cherries appears to have been
minimal. Most of the hail "hit in areas that really there are not a lot of
cherries," he said.