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What is a bad cherry?

It’s a cherry that consumers don’t want, and a cherry that slows down retail sales, says Jeff Heath, horticulturist at Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, Washington.

But it’s a cherry that might get picked, might get packed, and might make it to the retail shelf, nevertheless.

Wenatchee cherry grower Norm Gutzwiler said there are times when a grower’s crop is rained on, and a large percentage of the cherries are split. Even the unsplit cherries will turn soft quickly, but a warehouse might take them because it has buyers waiting for more cherries. The cherries are picked, packed, and pass the inspections, but five days later the fruit is soft, mushy, and tasteless, and falling apart, Gutzwiler related. Meanwhile, good fruit is coming into the warehouse, but the retailer has paid good money for the soft cherries, and does not want to take them off the shelf. They sit there until they get so bad the retailer throws them out.

A bad cherry can also be one that is too small, picked too early, or packed too late. If it is red on the outside but white inside or has less pressure than a grape, it is not a quality cherry, Gutzwiler said. A Sweetheart cherry harvested within a few days of Bing in order to retain workers is not a quality cherry, he emphasized. "It’s too immature. You may lose your pickers, but Sweethearts need to be picked three weeks after Bings."

Gutzwiler would like to see minimum standards put in place for red cherry varieties, as has been done for Rainier cherries. He’d like packing houses to sample the pressure of the cherries in the field to ensure that the cherries are harvested at the optimum time and avoid packing rained-on fruit.

"We, as growers, have to accept that if we don’t have quality fruit, it should not be shipped," he said during the North Central Washington Stone Fruit Day last winter. "Don’t expect that if the fieldman says, ‘We can pack and ship it,’ you can make money. They can’t make it better than what it is. I believe that you, as growers, control your own destiny. It’s important you do all you can to put what you think is good quality fruit out there. We have to do this ourselves. We can’t expect that when it gets to the warehouse it’s suddenly going to be firm fruit that tastes good and is a 10-row cherry."

Heath said heat is the worst enemy in growing cherries, and growers should make frequent deliveries to the warehouse during harvest because the sooner the fruit is cooled, the longer its shelf life. He suspects that as production increases in Washington, packers will find new ways to evaluate the quality of the cherries they receive, in addition to size. He expects new technology will allow on-line measurement of sweetness and firmness.