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Finally, Cherry Growers Get Serious About Harvest

Mark Hanrahan

As we approach the last few days of shipping before the window for the 4th of July holiday closes; I find myself worrying that we are going to have a “relapse” to last year’s challenging cherry season. Certainly, volume is increasing daily, and I expect us to be up to 300,000-plus boxes shipped by today … June 25. All told, we have only shipped 1.5 million boxes of cherries out to the market and odds are that we will be a paltry 3 million boxes shipped by the time our window closes on June 28th. Of that, one third will be exported leaving only 2 million boxes for the cherry-hungry domestic market. These are some of the same key factors that led to last year’s challenges—and not a good way to build the moment we would like to have coming into July. However, there are a few important differences this year that give those of us in this business hope:

1. The 2010 crop is definitely much shorter than the 2009 crop … we are still thinking 13 million boxes … but that number might even end up high.

2. Degree days indicate a definitive separation in the early-, mid-, and late-season growing districts. The Pacific Northwest’s warm weather this week is most welcome … but does not appear to be warm enough to push the entire crop together.

3. Weather throughout the Midwest and East Coast has been downright warm … it’s 99 degrees Fahrenheit in Philadelphia today … with 68 percent humidity. In other words, “It’s Cherry Eating Weather.”

4. Despite our cool weather, the cherries are eating especially well, and we have had positive comments come in from consumers, retailers, and our field representatives. Let’s hope that attitude holds though the summer!

Speaking of great flavor, I was able to host a tour of Korean media representatives through a growing area last week. At one of our stops, I was able to visit the cherry ranches of grower Mark Hanrahan in Zillah, Washington. Mark has planted a bevy of newer-variety cherries throughout his property, and our tour guests were amazed by the flavor of these. I was able to taste new varieties of Kiona, Santina, and Cowiche. All had wonderful size and compelling flavor profiles. As the manager of the Northwest Cherry Growers … I’ve never tried a cherry grown here that I didn’t like. However, Mark pushed me to pick the variety that best suited my personal taste. On that day, the winner was Kiona. The titratable acidity to brix ratio knocked my proverbial socks off!

Two days later we hosted a food writers tour to the same property, and 22 guests and writers tried the same varieties. To them, the Kiona was a favorite as well … but from a tree grown on a different rootstock than the one I had tried. Mark gets to keep “the secret” of which rootstock produced the better flavor. The Santina and the Cowiche varieties deserve mention as having great taste as well. The really good news is that growers will continue to have multiple options of various varieties to plant that will deliver the world-famous taste of NW Cherries to consumers throughout the world.

Lastly, if you would like to taste some of these new cherry varieties and you are not deep into cherry harvest … I suggest you head down to the farmer’s market in Prosser this Saturday. From 8:00 am to 12:00 pm, the team from the WSU cherry research center (IAREC) will have a grouping of new varieties available to taste. The schedule for this summer’s events can be viewed at www.prosserfarmersmarket.com/events.htm.