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New growers could boost Flavor Tree’s early cherry volume by 100,000 boxes

The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC in Hanford, CA, has brought in some new cherry growers that will increase the company’s already substantial cherry volume significantly this season.

“We are going to add, just in this district, probably another 100,000 boxes of cherries,” said Maurice Cameron, managing partner.

10-CalCherries-FlavorTree-MMaurice Cameron, managing partner at Flavor Tree.Hanford is located on the west side of the central San Joaquin Valley and is typically one of the earlier-maturing districts in the state, although usually not so early as the Arvin, CA, district at the southern end of the valley. This year, however, the Hanford area appears to actually be earlier than Arvin, according to Mr. Cameron.

In addition to the new growers in the early districts, Flavor Tree is also partnering with a grower in the Stockton, CA, area at the north end of the valley, “so we will have much more Bing production out of Stockton this year, too,” Mr. Cameron said.

“We expect to grow quite a bit” over last year’s volume, he said. “We are guessing we are going to have somewhere around three quarters of a million boxes sof cherries.”

In addition to its conventionally grown cherries, Flavor Tree has “a very big organic program,” Mr. Cameron said. “We were doing the numbers last year, and we were a little bit shy of 50 percent of the state’s production of organic cherries,” he said. “We were surprised to learn that we were such a big force in the organic industry.”

It is “a nice organic program,” he continued. “It consists of some of our proprietary varieties” such as the Sequoia, “plus other varieties,” including “a large Rainier organic planting. It is a very nice and fun program and allows us to interact with other parts of the trade that if we were only conventional we wouldn’t be able to interact with.”

So far, the 2013 cherry crop looks promising, Mr. Cameron said March 25. “There is the potential for a very nice crop — and I say potential, because with cherries, you don’t count them till they are in the box. But most of the orchards look like they will have a good set on them, so we are expecting a nice crop.”

The organic cherry orchards, however, were still in the blossom stage, so “we can’t really assess” those yet. However, “the bloom was pretty compact, so that is a good sign. Chances are it will set well as well,” he said.

In general, the bloom came a little later than usual in the valley this year. But “as far as timing goes, the company’s production around the Hanford area “is reasonably early for the state.” Flavor Tree is exclusive sales agent for Warmerdam Packing in Hanford, and many of the Warmerdam orchards this year are “on par with or earlier than” orchards in the Arvin area in Kern County, he said.

“We will probably start close to May 1, which is probably a little bit later than last year” but probably a bit earlier than the fruit from Kern County, which is the reverse of the usual situation when the harvest starts at the south end of the valley and works its way north, he said.

Even so, the anticipated start date is a bit late than last year. But “with that being said, we will also see a lot more fruit coming on early.” When it does start, “we will have a much stronger start” than usual, he added.

Flavor Tree will be bringing back to the market this year a novelty cherry product called “Cherry Bombs,” Mr. Cameron said. “We couldn’t do them in 2012 because we got hit by hail in the orchards” that were designated for that product.

The “Cherry Bombs” are large, really dark, very firm cherries that are picked stemless and sold in clamshells. “Everybody loves them.”

The “Cherry Bombs” are not a variety, but they are produced from a particular proprietary variety selected for the purpose. “First we identify … the orchards” which have the right set that will produce large fruit. “From that point on, it is cultural practices,” including delaying the harvest to the right moment, he said.

Flavor Tree, which handles a full line of stone fruit in addition to cherries, also has a product that is a hybrid cross of a cherry with a plum. “Last year, we had a limited amount of it, and it went very well,” Mr. Cameron said. “We will probably have much more of it this year, and we are looking forward to sharing that with some of our cherry customers.” Called “A Verry Cherry Plum,” the product harvests around mid-July.