Forecasting the perfect storm
The Pacific Northwest region's bumper 2009 cherry crop should have come as no surprise, says Lee Gale, technical consultant with Northwest Wholesale, located in Wenatchee, Washington.
The spring of 2008 was so cold that Washington growers spent more money on propane to heat their orchards than in many years previously, and supplies ran out. "We had weeks and weeks of cold weather," Gale recalled. "We had a crop that picked out at 1,000 to 3,000 pounds per acre. It was horrible."
Because of the small crop, growers didn't use gibberellic acid, which set the trees up for a large crop the following year. GA is a hormone that appears to inhibit flower bud initiation. After the short crop, growers didn't prune as well as they should have, perhaps in an effort to make up for it in 2009.
Bill Nichols, field horticulturist with McDougall and Sons, Wenatchee, said after the light crop of 2008, the trees had a lot of nitrogen resources and a high crop potential. The weather was exceptionally warm and calm during bloom in 2009, which led to good pollination and fruit set, and there was no rain damage during the season.
"The cherries were smaller than expected and yields were higher than expected, and that also led to this perfect storm this year," Nichols said.
"We had a perfect storm, but it should not be a surprise," Gale said. "We have 50,000 acres in the ground. With the number of trees we planted, we knew, as an industry, this was coming. We should have expected this to come like it did. Maybe 2010 will look like 2008, but what will 2011 look like? Will we correct the mistakes we made this year? I don't know."