The early California cherry season has been characterized by good volumes
of high-quality fruit and strong demand, both domestically and in export
Customers "are pretty much taking [the cherries] as fast as we can pack
them," Maurice (Mo) Cameron, managing partner of Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC
in Hanford, CA, which markets fruit for Warmerdam Packing LLC, said in a
May 26 interview with The Produce News.
Prices had “moderated quite a bit to the $30 to $40 price range, which I think
is the perfect pricing for the domestic retail trade,” he said. Prices had been
“in the $50 to $60 range for a while. We were pushing a lot of ad business
out, even in the $50 range.”
Cherry prices are largely dependent upon size, Mr. Cameron said. “For big
sizes at these moderate prices, demand exceeds supply.”
The crop is running a little later than normal due to a cool spring. But the cool
weather has allowed the cherries “to size up and gain some sugar,” he said.
“We have a very nice product. We have been fortunate that we haven't had
really hot weather to challenge us as far as condition goes.”
There has also been rain. In fact, the Central Valley, where most of
California’s early-season cherry varieties are grown, has experienced a
rainstorm almost every week over the last month or so, which is unusual for
the time of year. And rain at or near harvest time can be a serious problem
for cherries, often causing them to split.
But this year, “we didn’t see a huge amount of damage. It has not been
severe,” Mr. Cameron said. “We have been very lucky,” partly because of the
maturity level of the cherries at the time the rains came and partly because
the rains were generally followed by cool, breezy weather that dried the
cherries before significant damage occurred.
“They do fly helicopters over the fields to create wind to get the water off of
the cherries,” Bill Warmerdam, a founder of Warmerdam Packing, commented.
“The wind we had after the rains dried the cherries better than any helicopter
could have,” Mr. Cameron said.
“We are in a period of very good volume out of the central part of the valley,”
said Dave Parker, marketing director at Scattaglia Growers & Shippers LLC in
Traver, CA. “We made it known [to buyers] that this volume was coming …
and movement is taking us through this period in pretty good fashion so far.”
Because of the unusual weather, it has not been an easy year to define a
market or to predict volumes, noted Don Goforth, marketing director for
Family Tree Farms in Reedley, CA. It has been “very difficult to get a clear
picture of the supply side of supply side economics. Is it tight? Is it long? Did
rain affect one guy and not another? It all depends on little pockets in the
valley. But the bottom line is there is a lot of action right now, and the cherry
guys, including myself, are crazy busy today,” he said May 26.
Mr. Goforth added, “The pricing adjusted over the weekend, so now we are
down to pricing that retailers can hit realistically in the stores, and it is
moving a lot of cherries. I would call it demand exceeds — or at least
demand meets — supply, at lower prices than last week.”
Mr. Goforth concurred that current pricing was in “the $30 to $40 range
depending on size and also prior commitments. There is some ad pricing out
there that is definitely playing into the market as well.”
“Movement has been good so far,“ Michael Jameson, proprietor of Tristone
International in Fresno, CA, exclusive sales agent for cherries for Morada
Produce Co. LP in Stockton, CA, said May 26. “We have had really good
volume early on and good movement to all markets domestically as well as
around the world. Quality has been outstanding. This cool weather that we
have had has allowed the fruit to stay on the tree longer and get better size
than we have historically seen [on the early cherries]. It is one of the best-
quality crops I have seen [for those varieties].”
The harvest has been running a week to 10 days later than usual “because of
the cool weather,” he said. And even though there has also been rain, “it was
breezy after the rain [which] allowed the fruit to dry off, so there was minimal
damage” to the early fruit.
Regarding market prices, Mr. Jameson said that as volumes start to increase,
particularly with the Bing season approaching, “you have an adjustment in
the market, and it has done its normal transition downward to find a level
that moves the fruit to all markets.”
The market remains “very solid” with “good prices for fruit and excellent
movement,” Mr. Jameson said. “There are a lot of retailers pushing to
promote cherries in the early part of June, which is fantastic for the Bings.
The amount of inquiries for pricing for the ads for domestic retailers this year
for the first two weeks of June is a lot better than we had a year ago.”
Prices are “getting to a level now where retailers can promote a lot of
cherries, and that is what we need” with “a nice crop of Bings” about to come
onto the market, he said.