As the Northwest Cherry season draws closer by the day … for the first time in six or seven years I am thinking that the 2013 crop has the potential to begin harvest during the first days of June.

In this business, what appears to be “so” in April might change drastically by the end of May.  However, if you are a cherry grower, you have great hopes for the 2013 crop … It’s April and the opportunity for a successful summer harvest is something that keeps all of us at a frenetic pace throughout the spring.  If you’ve ever seen the movie “Money Ball” … you know the premise of determining a “winning” recipe in the preseason is about paying attention to the statistics and historical performance of a given player or in our case … a given crop.   Coming into this season, the statistics tell us that our cumulative growing degree day units are further ahead in mid-April than we have seen over the past six or seven years.   Our degree day unit output is similar to what we saw in 2005 and 2007.  Quite simply … we are ahead of normal when measuring degree days and based on our bloom timing we can expect cherries to be ready for harvest in the first days of June.  That being said … our production profile has changed significantly since the 2005-07 seasons.   The month of July will see significant volume regardless of the early start.   We should be expecting more cherries to be harvested in July than in June and as a result … our promotion timing will begin in mid June and extend through mid-August.

Can we win given this particular scenario?   In short … yes.   Having ample supplies leading up to the 4th of July holiday has proven to be a positive in previous years.  This year the 4th falls on a Thursday, a very positive occurrence for the grower.  A Thursday holiday allows for ads to break on the previous Wednesday or Sunday … but also allows our dedicated consumer base to stock up on cherries coming into the holiday.  Then … as the party finishes up on the 4th our consumer has the opportunity to go back to the store and load up on cherries for the following weekend. Thus, extending the celebration of amazing seasonal produce another few days.

The Northwest Cherry Growers will run promotion programs in 18 countries this summer including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Australia, Russia, Brazil, China/Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand Vietnam and Singapore.  Despite the budget cutbacks at the governmental level through the “national sequester,” we have applied for and received funding for our 5 state production region of just over 1.3 million dollars.  Matched with grower dollars, we will spend 65% of our promotion budget in the export markets in 2013.

Marketing strategies for the export markets continue to focus on creating a regional brand identity, the “Diamond of Fruit,” by associating Northwest cherries with the healthy, clean, and environmentally sound area of the Northwest United States.  This messaging continues to resonate with the international trade and international consumers.

In this business, we occasionally need to step back and take stock of the positives that come with a season.  Last year, the industry’s export business saw unprecedented growth and several key markets performed at levels beyond all expectations.  We saw China increase its volume by over 1,000,000 boxes, up to 2.2 million 20 lb. boxes this year.  We saw over 655,000 boxes go into Korea … an increase of over 87% from the previous year’s record.  We saw record shipments to Australia that exceeded 434,000, up 31% over last year’s record shipments.  On the whole, our export volume increased up to 8 million 20 lb. equivalent boxes shipped, up from the 2011 record shipments of 5.7 million 20 lb. equivalent boxes.  Never before has the industry seen a year-over-year increase of over 40% for the export growth in consecutive record years.

Likewise, there will be strong consumer publicity around the health benefits of our cherries both domestically and internationally this year.   For the first time, a study that funded by the Northwest Cherry Growers has been published in the Journal of Nutrition.  We have been working with Dr. Darshan Kelley of the Western Human Nutrition Research Center, ARS, USDA Department of Nutrition, University of California at Davis.  Dr. Kelley’s paper, “Sweet Bing Cherries Lower Circulating Concentrations of Markers for Chronic Inflammatory Diseases in Healthy Humans,” provides a great deal of insight into the health benefits of sweet cherries.  In short, Dr. Kelley’s study found that cherry consumption selectively reduced several biomarkers associated with inflammatory diseases and points to great opportunity for further research into several of the key health crises facing the human race in metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance in pre-diabetes.

As a result, we will be running a broad variety of media (social, print and radio) around these findings that point to the fact that our cherries truly are “superfruit”.   Consumers are increasingly reaching for “functional foods,” and cherries are chief among them. Cherries are chock-full of anthocyanins, a group of compounds shown to have particular importance in terms of reducing cancer risk, preventing cardiovascular disease, enhancing anti-inflammatory response and protecting neuronal cells involved in neurological function. They’re also fat-free, high in fiber, a good source of potassium and are a low-glycemic food.  Our sweet cherries are one of the few plant sources of melatonin.

Yes… it’s only mid-April and there are bound to be challenges over the next several months.  We hope for a reasonable spread in the production districts, we hope for some warm weather in May, and we hope that rains we saw last year … stay in the past.  For today, it is hard not to be excited about the potential of successful 2013 harvest.