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June comes in like a lion?

Photo: Rain-damaged ‘Chelan’ cherries in Pasco, Washington, on May 31, 2010

Amazingly, it’s the first day of June and a month ago I would have bet that growers along the Columbia River in the Tri-Cities region of Washington State would be picking today. It turns out that my beginning-of-May assumption is about 10 days from being accurate! The ever-changing sweet-cherry crop situation here in the Northwest remains “unpredictable” at best. In looking at orchards from the Tri-Cities to Naches in the state this past week, it is safe to say that we do not have a bumper crop on the trees. From the Pasco to Prosser, I do not think I saw a crop that averaged more than 4 or 5 tons per acre … and many orchards were much lighter than that. Looking at cherries over the Memorial Day weekend, I was disappointed to see several early Chelan blocks that were far enough along that they experienced some significant rain damage. Likewise, Bing cherries from Zillah to Naches are still appearing to be 15 to 25 days from harvest. The growers at the recent 5-State meeting appear to have the best chances of hitting the preseason estimate by stating that they predict 13.5 to 13.9 million boxes out of the Northwest states.

On the positive, the potential overlap with California cherry growers seems to be disappearing. A large overlap with Northern California producers was one of the key issues we believed could occur this year, and it is becoming less and less of an issue as our cherry harvest keeps getting pushed back. Despite some sporadic rain showers last week, California’s harvest seems to be progressing and they have already shipped over 4 million boxes and expect to ship another 3 million or so.

Northwest growers can only hope that over the next week the weather here in the turns for the better and we see the warmth that we have come to expect for the month of June. The overall weather forecast for the next several days here in the Northwest appears to be marred by clouds and cooler temperatures. All of us are hoping for some warm days to drive the needed cell division that cherries require to gain size. In short, this is another year in the cherry business, and we need some help from Mother Nature to find the success we are all hoping for from the 2010 season.