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Norm Gutzwiler wants growers who put more time and effort into raising quality cherries to be rewarded.

Norm Gutzwiler wants growers who put more time and effort into raising quality cherries to be rewarded.

The Washington State fresh cherry industry has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to introduce a premium grade for the state’s Rainier cherries.

The new grade, requested by the Washington Cherry Marketing Committee, defines the minimum size and color of Rainier cherries sold as “premium.” A regulation already in effect requires that Rainier cherries must have at least 17 percent soluble solids.

Wenatchee, Washington, cherry grower Norm Gutzwiler, committee chair, told the Good Fruit Grower that large cherries represent better value to consumers than small cherries. Growers felt that if they were using practices such as pruning, thinning, and using reflective mulch to improve size and color, they should be able to sell the fruit as a premium product that was not in competition with ordinary yellow Rainier cherries.

Gutzwiler said the industry did not want to restrict the type of Rainiers that could be marketed, but wanted growers who put more time and effort into raising quality fruit to be rewarded for it. “Mostly, the market wants that premium Rainier,” he said.

B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, said that Washington could harvest as many as 2 million boxes of Rainier cherries this season. As Rainier cherry production has increased, producers have been offering their customers up to three different grades, and that’s causing confusion in the marketplace. An official premium grade will help buyers understand the quality of fruit they are buying.

To be labeled as premium, at least 90 percent of the Rainier cherries in a box will have to measure 1 inch (101⁄2 row) or larger, and no more than 5 percent of the cherries can be smaller than 11 row. In addition, 90 percent of the cherries must have a pink to red blush. In samples taken from the boxes, no more than 20 percent can be without blush.

Rainier cherries with the word “premium” printed anywhere on the packaging must conform to the standard.

Committee members voted unanimously at their May 14 meeting to request that the new grade be introduced as soon as possible, and preferably during the 2009 season. Robert Curry, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northwest Marketing Field Office in Portland, Oregon, said that since the grade had unanimous industry support and did not restrict the type of fruit that could be sold, it could probably be introduced quite quickly. It would be effective as soon as the USDA published an interim final rule, without needing to wait for the public comment period to close. Washington State Department of Agriculture Commodity Inspection Service representatives said inspectors would implement the rule as soon as it was published.

Rainier is the only cherry variety with minimum soluble solids standards and will be the only one with an official premium grade.