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The Pacific Northwest cherry harvest is running later than usual this year, which could open up opportunities in export markets.

Because of a late spring, shipments were expected to peak after the Fourth of July weekend, which is a crucial time for cherry promotions and sales. However, the season has been more extended, resulting in more cherries to ship at the end of the season, in August.

B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, which represents producers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana, said the lateness of the season could prove a marketing advantage in Europe, where Turkey has dominated in recent years. Turkey is the world’s largest producer of sweet cherries and can supply fruit at lower prices than U.S. producers can.

Thurlby said the Northwest season should be late enough this year that there might be opportunities in Europe after the Turkish cherry season.

“Even though the euro and the pound are a little weaker, we’re late enough that we might see something special happen in Europe,” he said. “I’m thinking we’re going to have a great run in Europe in the last two weeks of August and even into September.”

West Mathison at Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, Washington, which is one of the largest cherry shippers in the region and supplies some of the latest cherries, has said the industry could possibly ship five million boxes of cherries in August this season, out of the total crop ­estimated at around 17.2 million boxes.

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Teresa Baggarley, international program coordinator for Northwest Cherry Growers, said 2011 could be a banner year for cherry exports because of the weak dollar and growth of the economies in emerging markets. Even last year, when cherry prices were high because of the relatively short crop, the percentage exported increased slightly to 28.4 percent of the total.

Northwest cherries are being promoted in Asia as the best cherries in the world and an affordable luxury. Promotions are scheduled from the second week in July until August. Rainier cherry promotions will take place in mid-July. Promotion activities include in-store demonstrations, wholesale promotions, newspaper articles, television commercials, and Internet blogs. Northwest Cherry Growers also supplies point-of-sale materials and encourages retailers to expand their cherry displays.

For the past three years, Northwest Cherry Growers has received federal funds to do promotions in emerging markets and is conducting training for retailers on care, handling, and merchandising of cherries in Brazil, Vietnam, and western Russia.

China is becoming a major market for Northwest cherries and could take a ­million boxes in the coming season, ­Baggarley predicted. Korea and Australia could reach 300,000 boxes.

Japan

Thurlby said there are also high hopes for Japan, where producers can now export under a systems approach instead of fumigating the fruit.

“We hope to see record sales in July and August,” he said.

The total budget for promotions in export markets (excluding Canada) for 2011 is $2 million, of which $1.2 million come from federal Market Access Promotion funds. Another $1.6 million are allocated to domestic promotions. The assessment rate is $18 per ton.