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Rain damage to early Northwest cherries yet to be assessed

by Lora Abcarian and Kathleen Thomas Gaspar | June 24, 2010
Cold, rainy weather patterns that beset the Pacific Northwest in May have finally broken, and while the region's cherry producers are in the process of assessing actual damage done to early-season varieties, growers and officials are voicing cautious optimism about the overall 2010 season.

James Michael, promotions director for the Washington State Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherry Growers, said June 22, "This has been one of the cooler Mays in the past 50 years. We lost a little of the crop to rain, but overall industry volume is good."

The commission is projecting an total cherry crop of 13 million boxes in 2010. Warm spring weather preceded the May cold snap, and cherry producers in the five-state growing region originally anticipated that the harvest would ramp up a little ahead of normal production schedules. “We were early, but now we’re back to a typical timetable,” Mr. Michael said of the effects of the cooler May temperatures.

“We’ll have plenty of volume for July 4th ads,” he went on to say, adding that warehouse packouts the week of June 21 were normal. “We’re receiving more volume with early varieties,” he said.

Suzanne Wolter, marketing director for Selah, WA-based Rainier Fruit Co., told The Produce News June 22 that early fruit has been most affected by the rain. “In regards to our losses, I don’t have specific numbers or percentages,” Ms. Wolter said. “The biggest impact has been to our early-season fruit. Our customer base has struggled along with us as we’ve sputtered through the last two weeks with intermittent harvest and packs due to the storms that kept coming right up through this past weekend.”

Ms. Wolter added, “We’re beginning to hit full stride this week, both on organic and conventional fruit. It’s sunny and 80 degrees today, and forecasters are predicting sunny, 90-degree days for the rest of the week.”

Looking at weather patterns that led up to the June rains, she said, “Cooler temperatures in April and May delayed maturity, which actually was a blessing with the wet weather. The sun and warmer temps will now bring fruit to maturity, and we should have several weeks of excellent supply and quality. Retailers should plan to advertise heavily throughout the month of July. Additionally, don’t forget about National Rainier Cherry Day on July 11.”

In Wenatchee, WA, Oneonta Starr Growers Marketing Director Scott Marboe provided a similar take on the wet weather. When asked to what extent the rain had damaged the 2010 cherry crop, Mr. Marboe said it was “nothing significant but there was some damage to the early Chelans. The fruit coming in for the most part is pretty good. Color is getting better every day, and condition is good with a very good mix of sizes. Right now, we are on some lots that are really heavy to large-sized fruit.”

He concurred that early fruit was hardest hit, noting, “Mid-season seems to be OK. Late season has seen some effects from the weather, but it is still too early to tell.”

Mr. Marboe added, “There is still a good six weeks’ worth of fruit to harvest, and great opportunities still present themselves for ads and promotions.”

Roger Pepperl, director of marketing for Stemilt Growers Inc. in Wenatchee, WA, told The Produce News June 22, “Some early-front varieties were knocked out. We are finishing Chelans and starting early-district Bings.”

He said that volume for the 2010 cherry season will be smaller, but the crop will be manageable and one of high quality.

“We’re doing OK,” Mr. Pepperl told The Produce News. “We’re packing pretty hard. This fruit has very good flavor, and sizing is good.”