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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 Stockton, CA.

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 and Bings.

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 said.

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.