The promotion staff at the Northwest Cherry Growers has been all over the globe over the past several months.
Likewise, the phone continues to ring with queries from media, retailers and importers asking how big the crop is going to be and from growers informing me that there is “great potential” for volume and flavor in our cherries this season.
Our first round crop estimate was sent out to the industry last week.
The Northwest (NW) Cherries Field Estimate team has compiled a Round #1 estimate for the 2014 Northwest Cherry crop. Over a series of 4 rounds of projections during the crop’s early development, the 17-person estimation team looks at crop potential across all growing districts with each member submitting data specific to their active growing districts.
This data is built into an estimation model that uses fieldmen assessments of current crop load, historical data, degree days, acreage expansion and average processing tonnage data to formulate an estimate.
This year, that data has produced a 2014 Round #1 estimate of 199,566 metric tons or 19.96 million 20-pound equivalent boxes.
As always, it is important to note that this First Round estimate has the most potential for variance from the eventual actual size of the crop; not all of our orchards are far enough along to determine what will actually stay on the tree.
However, as of today the estimation team is predicting a crop that will be up 39% from last year’s 14.3 million box crop.
As a result of this estimate, I’ve had a wide range of comments. Some growers are saying the estimate is “too dog gone high.” Some of our sales and marketing managers are saying the estimate is “too darn low.” My hope is to someday … get the first round estimate “just right.”
As this is the “cherry business” the crop could be bigger or smaller based on this data … but there is no reason to assume the crop will be short at this point.
The growing region is well through bloom and the past two days of warm weather should give us an idea of what will stay on our trees. The good news is that we are seeing fairly wide spread in bloom timing by growing district.
While it appears a “nice to moderate” crop was set across the growing districts, many growers are commenting that they are seeing smaller clusters of cherries spread throughout the trees. Likewise, most growers are commenting that the trees are not set up close to as heavy as they were in 2012.
It’s worth noting that we will send at least 25% of the cherries on the trees to the processed market (we always do). Based on conversations this week I would expect the first harvest to begin on or close to June 1st. Again this year … it appears we have a chance to get volume out for the 4th of July holiday.
As you can see from the GDD chart below there remains a very nice spread between production districts … this year Yakima (Harrah) and Brewster districts are over 200 degree days apart. We should get 90 days to sell the entire crop. The spread between districts is clearly evident in the numbers below:
The biggest news so far this spring is shortness of the California sweet cherry crop. The crop in California continues to shrink, and several Californians have mentioned that they think the crop is now closer to 3 million boxes. Likewise, there is a feeling that the last few cherries will be shipped by June 15th if not earlier.
At this time, I am comfortable saying that the overlap with California should be a non-factor … and June should see incredible demand for NW cherries.
Lastly, it is possible that 50% of the U.S. domestic market retail groups will not have a single cherry in their stores until our crop hits the market in June.
We are working to reserve ample shelf space for June … and retailers are hoping to make up for lost cherry sales in April and May with the Northwest crop over the remainder of the summer.
The odd market situation we are seeing today bodes very well for our growers. If Mother Nature cooperates … we have a great chance to build the momentum needed to sustain demand and sell though from start to finish!