Fruit size matters
Larger fruit bring more money on a per-acre basis and require fewer pickers.
Lots of small fruit or fewer big fruit—which makes more money for a grower? For answers, growers should analyze their cherry packout reports, suggests an Oregon orchardist.
Growers, when analyzing their own data, may well discover that it pays to grow larger fruit even though tonnage is less, said Mel Omeg of Omeg Orchards, a 350-acre sweet cherry growing operation in The Dalles, Oregon.
“Packout analysis is an important tool for setting goals and developing a horticultural plan,” he stated during the Cherry Institute, an educational seminar held annually in Yakima, Washington. “Knowing your return per acre is an important question. You need to do the packout analysis to look at your returns and then set goals to grow big cherries.”
Omeg believes that the higher returns will more than pay for the horticultural practices associated with growing large fruit, though he stressed that his economic study was a limited overview as it evaluated cherry data from only a few Pacific Northwest packing houses. But the study did analyze a large number of packout reports. His analysis was based on a four-year average sales price of Bing cherries taken at the peak of the Northwest harvest. Average prices that were received by the packing houses ranged from $2.19 per pound for 9-row sized cherries to $1.21 for 11.5-row cherries.
Omeg used a charge of 70 cents per pound for picking and packing costs to create a hypothetical chart to assess per-acre returns to the grower based on row size and the four-year average Bing price.
For example, the net per-acre return to a producer growing three tons of 9-row fruit is $8,940, he said, explaining that a grower would have to produce more than five tons per acre of 10-row fruit or more than eight tons per acre of 11.5-row fruit to receive the same amount.
“It’s a hypothetical chart; however, it does show the relationship of yield per acre and size,” he said. Also, higher tonnage of smaller fruit requires more labor than picking larger-sized fruit.
Omeg used examples of three different hypothetical growers to demonstrate how packout reports can be analyzed and equated into net return per acre after picking and packing costs have been deducted. Grower assumptions were based on growing Bing cherries on Gisela 6 rootstock, planted on a 10 feet by 16 feet spacing, with an average of 272 trees per acre. Each grower had an 85 percent packout of total fruit delivered to the packing house.
Grower No. 1 had very high yields per acre but small fruit. Production was 10 tons per acre, with 20 percent of the fruit 10.5-row, 45 percent 11-row, and 35 percent 12-row. Net return per acre after picking and packing costs was $6,022.
Grower No. 2 had less tonnage, but 70 percent of the packed fruit was 10.5-row or larger. Production was 8 tons per acre, with 10 percent grading 9.5-row, 20 percent 10-row, 40 percent 10.5-row, 20 percent 11-row, and 10 percent 11.5-row. Net return per acre after picking and packing costs was $8,359.
Grower No. 3 had the least amount of tonnage of the three growers but more than 85 percent of packed fruit graded 10.5-row or larger. Production was 7 tons per acre with 40 percent of packed fruit sized at 9.5-row or larger, 33 percent was 10-row, 14 percent was 10.5-row, and 13 percent was 11-row or smaller. Net return per acre after picking and packing costs was $9,887.
“The goal should be to have half of your fruit fall in the 9- to 9.5-row category,” Omeg said.
Growing less tonnage but larger fruit paid off for Grower No. 3, who made $3,800 more than Grower No. 1 and $1,500 more than Grower No. 2, partly because of lower picking and packing costs.
“Which grower will have the most money in his pocket?” Omeg asked. “Which grower paid the most dollars to the packing shed? Which grower needed the most pickers and the most equipment?
“Which grower would you prefer to be?”
He encouraged growers to analyze their own data to help set production goals and develop horticultural strategies to achieve the goals.