NW cherry crop pegged at 14 million boxes
The challenge this year will be an overlap with the California season.
The first official estimate of the 2010 Northwest fresh cherry crop is just under 14 million boxes (140,000 tons), a 30 percent drop from the record volume picked a year ago.
Last year, producers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Utah packed more than 20 million boxes and left a significant portion unpicked because of marketing difficulties.
B. J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, said during the annual Five-State Cherry Commission meeting on May 19 that producers look set to have a more successful season this year for a number of reasons.
First, bloom was more spread out than a year ago, so the harvest period is likely to be more extended. Last year, the crop was late and much of the crop came in after the crucial July 4 holiday shipping period. The industry shipped a record 12.7 million boxes in July. This season, more cherries should be on the market both at the start of the season in June and on the late end in August.
Thurlby said other positive signs are an improving U.S. economy and higher consumer confidence in Asia, where 70 percent of the Northwest cherry exports go. “I believe we’re going into a market that’s in a lot better state than last year,” he said.
The number-one challenge this year will be an overlap with the California cherry season, Thurlby said.
Tate Mathison with Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, which has cherry orchards in California, said the weather there has been cool and wet, and the season was running about ten days late. Peak Bing production could be around June 11 in California and June 24 in the Northwest. However, the quality of the cherries will be very different, he said. California cherries are likely to be on the small side, while the Northwest should have large fruit because of the lower production.
Oregon: Oregon is forecasting a crop of less than 25,000 tons, down from almost 30,000 tons a year ago. Bob Bailey with Orchard View Farms, The Dalles, said his company expects to pack 20 percent fewer cherries, not counting the 2,000 to 3,000 tons left on the trees last year. He noted that the crop on mature trees is down about 30 to 40 percent from last year, while young trees coming into production have better crops.
Wenatchee: The Wenatchee district is forecasting 55,000 tons, down from almost 85,000 tons last year. Mathison said Stemilt expects its Bing production to be down 60 percent and other varieties down to a lesser degree. Among Stemilt’s growers, Bing bloom was spread out over 37 days. Mathison said the extended harvest should make the crop feel even smaller than it is.
Few growers are reporting full crops. Some orchards were affected by a fall freeze or spring frost, and the bloom period was generally cool and windy, leading to poor pollination.
Ken Brunner with Chelan Fresh said his company expects to pack 20 percent less fruit than last year, but producers keep revising their estimates downwards as the cherries continue to drop.
Yakima: Yakima is also forecasting 55,000 tons, down from 80,000 last season. Denny Hayden of Pasco said wind damage to the young cherries was widespread.
“It’s a little rougher crop than it would normally be at this stage of the game,” agreed Jim Kelley of Kennewick. He estimates average production in the Tri-Cities at around 4 to 5 tons per acre, though some blocks won’t have enough volume to justify picking.
Idaho is forecasting 1,800 tons, up about 700 tons from 2009; Montana’s crop, previously included in the Washington figures, is likely to be 1,700 tons; and Utah expects to harvest 500 tons, the largest volume since 2006.
A panel of field horticulturists who make forecasts of the Northwest cherry crop as the season progresses have pinned the crop at 150,000 to 156,000 tons. They will update their estimate at the end of May.