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Northwest cherries expected to hit 20 million-box mark

It won’t be long before cherry producers in the Pacific Northwest are picking and grinning. This year’s harvest is expected to ramp up early, and favorable conditions during the growing season are expected to translate to fruit of exceptional quality and flavor. Producers couldn’t be happier.

“Current estimates are saying that there will be approximately 20 million boxes compared to about 14 million in 2013,” said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers. OpenerShotSTEMILTConditions during the production season for Northwest cherries have been picture perfect. (Photo courtesy of Stemilt Growers LLC)This volume represents an increase of 39 percent from last season.

The Pacific Northwest is comprised of the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah. Washington produces 75 percent of the region’s cherries, followed by Oregon at 20 percent. Production in Idaho, Montana and Utah takes up the balance of Northwest cherry volume.

Brad Fowler, president and owner of Hood River Cherry Co., is a late-season cherry producer. Looking at the region’s forthcoming crop, he said, “I think it’s not going to be a big crop, but it will be a quality crop.”

The situation is different from the 2013 season, when a series of weather events diminished overall volume in the Pacific Northwest. “Weather has been very favorable in Washington both pre- and post-bloom,” said Brianna Shales, communications manager at Stemilt Growers LLC. “We are anticipating a nice crop of cherries starting in early June.”

Growers are optimistic about crop condition and quality. “We are hoping the weather continues cooperating, and this year’s crop is very clean and free of blemishes as it’s appearing to be on the trees at this time,” said Ron Everts, head field cherry man at Borton & Sons Inc.

Pollination has been described as good, and tree bloom has been desirable. “The crop load on trees is consistent across the various growing areas but not too heavy as to impact fruit size,” said Dan Wohlford, national marketing representative for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers. “Therefore, if the weather continues to be normal, we should have a large but orderly harvest of good-sized fruit. The information we are getting from our field department is to expect a crop similar to 2012.”

Looking at the coming harvest, Katharine Grove, a member of CMI’s marketing team, provided some insights. “The bloom period was of short duration in most orchards, which normally results in more even color development and fruit maturity,” she stated. “The projected start in the earliest district (Tri-Cities, Washington) is June 4-6 for Chelan variety dark sweets and about a week later for Bings,” she stated. “This harvest pattern will continue over the next week or so as the southern Columbia Basin and lower Yakima Valley orchards get started. Earliest orchards have variable crop loads with Chelans anywhere from two to eight tons per acre and Bings a little higher overall.”

Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit Co., said marketplace dynamics are shifting due to a lengthened production season. As she observed, cherries return more dollars per square foot to retailers than any other produce item during July. Retailers, she went on to say, should recognize the important contributions cherry sales can make in the produce department during August. “Retailers with the most successfully executed strategy maximized sales to the very end instead of prematurely phasing out cherries from the product department to make way for other summer fruit categories,” she commented. “There is an opportunity to change the retail mindset to align with the new reality that late season is as important if not more important than peak cherry season.”