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Jill Douglas and Doug Field

New commissioners, Jill Douglas and Doug Field joined the board on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

The Washington State Fruit Commission is gearing up for a strong cherry crop in 2014. Though it’s too soon to estimate crop numbers, trees overwintered well and early indications point to a robust crop, which could be anywhere between 20 to 25 million boxes—if Mother Nature cooperates.

Last year’s crop was poised to be around 20 million boxes but, after repeated rain events in early summer, the industry lost close to 4 million boxes and the crop totaled a disappointing 14 million 20-pound box equivalents.

During a March 12 meeting of the Fruit Commission, held in Yakima, the commission board approved a $6.9 million budget for cherry and soft fruit promotions in 2014. That amount includes $1.74 million that will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program (MAP), a Farm Bill program that provides money to agricultural groups for promotions in foreign countries.

The market access program funding represents a 30 percent increase from past MAP funds, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Fruit Commission. Northwest cherries will be allocated $1.6 million in USDA money and soft fruits $133,000.

“We’re receiving about $300,000 in new MAP money this year,” said Thurlby. “That makes this year’s export budget the largest it’s ever been.” Export markets are critical in helping market larger crop volumes, he added.

Export and domestic promotions for cherries are conducted by the Northwest Cherry Growers and represent sweet cherries from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana. The Fruit Commission conducts promotions on behalf of Washington State producers of apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums/prunes.

In the upcoming season, promotions for cherries are planned for Korea, Australia, China, Taiwan, United Kingdom, European Union, Brazil, and Japan. Export activities for Washington apricots are planned for Mexico.

 Assessment

In other business, the Fruit Commission approved keeping the grower-paid assessment at current rates of $18 per ton for fresh cherries, $5 per ton for processes cherries, $12 per ton for fresh market soft fruit, and $1 per ton for graded, processed soft fruit.

Two new commissioners were seated on the board after industry nominations and appointment by the Director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture: Jill Douglas, general manager of Douglas Fruit, a grower/packer in Pasco; and Doug Field, president of Excel Fruit in Yakima, a broker for processed fruit dealing in apples, pears, and cherries. Also, Steve Carlson of Del Monte Foods, Yakima, was elected chair of the Fruit Commission for fiscal year 2014-15.

Cherry grower representatives from the five states will meet May 21 in Richland, Washington, to discuss volume and timing of this year’s crop. For meeting information, contact the Fruit Commission at (509) 453-4837 or email: kathy@wastatefruit.com .