The record Northwest cherry crop of 23 million boxes in 2014 is a forerunner to larger cherry volumes in the future, but another record crop probably won’t happen this year.
B.J. Thurlby, president of the Northwest Cherry Growers, said although it’s too soon to predict the size of the 2015 crop, volume will likely be down due to winter damage experienced by some growers in Oregon and Washington. Northwest Cherry Growers is the promotion arm for cherry producers of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana.
“With current acreage planted, there’s potential for more fruit than 2014, but I think the volume will be down slightly from last year,” Thurlby said while giving a crop overview during the annual Cherry Institute meeting in Yakima, Washington.
The most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture puts cherry acreage in Washington at 38,100 acres, Oregon at 14,100, and California at 33,000. Nationally, there are nearly 90,000 acres of sweet cherries.
Thurlby says it’s too early to know the full impact from winter damage on the overall Northwest crop. However, Oregon growers contributed around 4 million 20-pound boxes last year. Oregon production could be off 25 to 50 percent in 2015.
“I think 20 million boxes for this year would represent a normal crop from Washington and reflect Oregon’s winter damage,” he said. Official estimates will be developed prior to harvest after risk from most spring frosts has passed.
Shipping trends last season showed the crop was compressed. Record hot summer temperatures in 2014 ripened fruit more quickly than normal, which resulted in one of the smallest crops in August of the last seven years. Late varieties have shifted cherries into August. And some years, about 25 percent of the crop shipped that month. Only 700,000 boxes were shipped in August last year, equal to 3 percent of the crop.
“We moved 18 million boxes in 47 days,” said Thurlby, adding that the entire crop was shipped in 77 days, almost setting a record. Nearly 10 million boxes were shipped in June, an important factor in moving the large crop.
Also noteworthy was the volume of Rainier cherries. More than 2 million boxes of Rainiers were shipped, representing the Northwest’s second largest crop ever of the blush variety.
“The industry saw an unprecedented 34-day streak of cherry movement that averaged 502,000 boxes daily,” he said. Another milestone was July 11, which was the largest cherry shipment day in the history of Northwest Cherry Growers with 665,936 boxes shipped. •