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The key to keeping the Northwest cherry industry sustainable and profitable can be boiled down to five principles, says B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Commission, which oversees the Northwest Cherry Growers promotion group.

1. Maintain export markets for Northwest cherries. Export markets make up about 25 to 30 percent of the crop and provide a release valve and market for premium cherries.

2. Improve U.S. per capita consumption. Research shows that 73 percent of domestic consumers aren’t eating cherries. "We need to find out how to get on their menu," Thurlby said.

3. Develop a health message. A coordinated and long-term health message plan should be developed in conjunction with California sweet cherry producers.

4. Better understand crop size and timing. Finding out what the crop estimation is in the third week of May is too late, Thurlby said, adding that a better crop estimation system is needed.

5. Continue to produce high quality. On a world market, U.S. cherry growers are the high-cost producers, he said. "That means we also have to be the high-quality producer."