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As of mid-May, feedback from the Pacific Northwest pointed to an outstanding, if not record-setting, cherry crop. "We're seeing a curve similar to 2007," said James Michael, promotions director for the Washington State Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherries. "Everything looks good this year."

Regional producers met on May 19, and the current cherry volume for the region is 16 million 20-pound boxes for 2010. Although volume will be smaller than 2009, fruit sizing is expected to be larger. Unlike 2009, the marketing window is expected to be normal this season, allowing for smooth flow and clean up of supplies.

Mr. Michael said that the Pacific Northwest is home to approximately 3,500 growers of cherries and soft fruit. Approximately 60,000 acres are planted to cherries in Washington and Oregon, a stable figure for these states. Washington has experienced some acreage growth, however. "There's been a trend toward the Canadian border and later season varieties," he explained.

He was asked about weather conditions during the growing season. "We had an El Niño year. Last October, we had a cold snap," Mr. Michael replied. "It did a little damage. We had more cold weather earlier than is typical." But he went on to say growers took strong crop and frost protection measures to minimize weather impacts.

News of Colony Collapse Disorder continues to make headlines. When asked about pollination and bee activity, Mr. Michael said, "Overall, pollination has been good. I haven't heard anything from growers about bee problems in eastern Washington."

Although some growing districts experienced problems with wind, Mr. Michael said bees went about their business despite the conditions. Unlike the compressed 2009 cherry season, Mr. Michael said the 2010 production season will ramp up along normal timetables. In mid-May, he said the industry was anticipating the season to begin one to two weeks ahead of typical schedules.

"Some of the early varieties will begin in early June. Others will come in mid- June," he stated. Late-season varieties are expected to push the production season to the end of August. Rainiers are expected to come off early this year, and supplies are expected to be plentiful around July 11, National Rainier Cherry Day.

Cherry trees tend to set volume in alternate-bearing years, and last year's volume was a record-setter. "We won't see the same heavy-set type crop as last year," Mr. Michael stated. Despite that fact, he said cherry sizing will be larger in 2010. He attributed the increased sizing to aggressive grower pruning and natural thinning of bloom sets.

The bulk of cherry volume is marketed domestically. According to Mr. Michael, 25-30 percent of the annual crop from the region is sold to export markets in the Pacific Rim, United Kingdom and Europe. "This seems to stay consistent year to year," he noted.

Northwest Cherries will be working with retailers to reinforce messages of healthfulness associated with cherry consumption. Promotions will include flyers, consumer loyalty cards and point-of-sale signage.

Cooking demonstrations continue to be an effective retail tool. "Cherries are such a healthy item," he commented. "Demos are highly successful for retailers. Sampling flavor while learning is important [for consumers]." Recipe cards will also be available at retail to show consumers how cherry consumption promotes healthy lifestyles.

(For more on Northwest cherries, see the May 31, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)