Unlike many produce commodities that are now available virtually year-round from one source or another, fresh cherries remain highly seasonal, and the first cherries of the season typically command very high prices.
The earliest cherries out of California typically start around the first of May, with crops out of the Pacific Northwest following several weeks later.
But a company in Spain is growing cherries in greenhouses and harvesting them in March, at a time when there are no other fresh cherries available anywhere in the world, according to Maurice Cameron,president of The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC in Hanford, CA.
Flavor Tree is bringing some of the greenhouse-grown cherries from Spain into the North American market for the first time this year. They are available in limited quantity and currently are coming only into Canada, but Flavor Tree is working at getting approval to bring them into the U.S. market as well. That may take another couple of years, said Mr. Cameron, who had recently returned from a trip to Spain to witness the March harvest.
Flavor Tree is exclusive marketer of fruit from Warmerdam Packing in Hanford, which has ties with Bradford Genetics, a fruit breeder. Bradford has a test plot on the Warmerdam farm and has showings there featuring new varietal releases.
Because of that, "we get a lot of visitors from around the world ... growers, especially, who come to look," Mr. Cameron told The Produce News.
Warmerdam has exclusive rights to the proprietary Sequoia cherry variety in the United States, but there are growers in Chile, Australia and Spain that also grow the Sequoia variety, he said.
"We share information, because we are not really competitors," being in different markets and having different timing of the harvest, Mr. Cameron said. In the process, "we developed a friendship with a farmer in northern Spain who grows Sequoias there, and he, in turn, introduced me to another company [S.A.T. Edoa] that grows these greenhouse cherries."
Flavor Tree has been in dialog with Edoa "for the past couple of years now, and we are looking towards what we can do in the United States and Canada" with the greenhouse cherries that "come in at a time when there are no other cherries on the face of the earth that are being harvested," he said.
Edoa has been developing and perfecting its technology for growing cherries in greenhouses for around eight or nine years and now has three greenhouses in Catalonia — each covering several acres — in commercial production.
"At their peak, they will pick about 2,500 kilos [5,500 pounds] a day," said Mr. Cameron. The third greenhouse was built just recently. "Demand was so great for the first two that they are already expanding."
The weather is cold enough that getting sufficient chill during dormancy is not a problem.
"The dormancy is perfect" for the cherries, Mr. Cameron said. But after the trees have and sufficient dormancy, heat is introduced artificially into the greenhouses to wake the trees up and bring on the bloom weeks earlier than they normally would in an open field.
As a result, the fruit is ready for harvest at a time when the earliest open-field production areas throughout the Northern Hemisphere are just coming into bloom."
A lot of the fruit from the Edoa greenhouses goes to the United Kingdom, Russia and the Middle East. This year, "we are doing our first test shipments into Canada," Mr. Cameron said. They are packed in the grower's label, "Cherries Glamour."
But Mr. Cameron's interest is not just in importing the cherries. His hope is to work bring the production technology to the United States, in cooperation with Edoa, so that the fruit could be produced here for a March and April harvest, rather than bringing it in by air freight.