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Coldsnap, sluggish pollination will affect early Northwest cherry deal

The consensus among cherry growers in the Pacific Northwest is that the 2013 crop will fall within the 16-18 million box range. Growers from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah met May 15 to discuss prospects for the coming season, agreeing that the crop size would not be as large as initially expected. The effects will be most directly felt in the marketplace during the early season.

"2012 was a record crop year," said Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit Co. CropOverviewCold, windy conditions affected bee pollination in southern growing cherry districts in the Pacific Northwest. (Photo courtesy of Stemilt Growers LLC.)"We expect this season to be more 'normal' and therefore slightly smaller than last year."

Bob Mast, president of Columbia Marketing International, said a frost event in southern growing districts set the stage for the reduced volume. "The early districts will have 30 to 40 percent less [fruit]," he told The Produce News. He also stated that bloom return was lower this season.

Despite the situation, he said volume for the 2013 Northwest cherry crop is on par with the five-year average.

"The southern districts had a lot of cold, cold wind," said Roger Pepperl, director of marketing for Stemilt Growers LLC. "The trees were full of blooms. But the bees didn't get out, and the pollen got dry."

Brad Fowler, president and owner of Hood River Cherry Co., said his cherry acreage would not be affected to the same degree as other Northwest growers have reported. Mr. Fowler grows cherries in Oregon's Hood River Valley. He said it was rainy during the first half of the pollination period and bee activity was affected. "Warm weather was conducive to bee pollination in the second half of the season," he stated. "In 20 years, I haven't seen such a run of good weather during pollination."

"Other than some cool days that hurt pollination in some areas, the weather has been really good," said Scott Marboe, marketing director for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers. "The heat wave we are seeing right now in early May is helping spur growth and also attributing to a drop of the smaller, weaker fruit set. It is looking very nice."

The harvest of early cherries in the Northwest typically begins in early to mid-June. "I would expect a low volume in the month of June," Pepperl went on to say. "Post Fourth of July, you'll see a more typical pattern."

Chuck Sinks, president of Sage Fruit Co., agreed: "We still anticipate a promotable crop of cherries, but expect the front end to be a little tighter than anticipated when we originally had an earlier bloom than last year."

Ron Everts, fieldman for Borton & Sons Inc. in Yakima, WA, said he expects decreases in the company's early cherry deal will be reflective of statewide trends.

"This smaller crop, however, will lend itself to larger fruit size, with almost 88 percent of the crop being 11 row and larger," said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers.

Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing, also said he expects large cherries this season. With the volume shortages on the front end for Northwest growers, he said, "California cherries may clean up better in the early part of the season."

Riggan said a lot of new cherry trees are coming into production in the Pacific Northwest, and they present something of a wildcard when it comes to 2013 volume estimates.