Editor’s note: The California cherry crop estimate was released after the print deadline for this story in our May 15 issue. See the related web update for more information about the California cherry crop estimate.
Cherry growers in both California and the Northwest expect harvest to start late this year, due to a cool and wet spring.
Historic cool and wet weather that made national news headlines has slowed down California’s cherry crop. Many growers who normally start harvest in April had to wait until May this year.
No crop estimates were available when this issue went to press in late April, but the timeline was coming into focus.
“We just can’t put a number on it yet because we are so pushed back,” said John Gibson, a grower from Lodi and a director of the California Cherry Board. “It’s hard to put down a number when the Bings are still coming out of their jackets.”
While the cold weather delayed the bloom, it also spared the crop from damaging rains, he said, so he was feeling cautiously optimistic. So were others in the region, despite the remaining uncertainty.
“As our California manager always says, we will know about the California cherry crop when we harvest it. This year, with the historic cold that delayed bloom, it has been a very challenging estimate to come to,” said Brianna Shales, marketing director for Stemilt Growers. “Last year, we started in April. This year it’s May for sure.”
Individual growers expect average yields and high-quality fruit.
“Generally, it’s a good crop,” said Jeff Colombini, a Lodi, California, cherry grower. “Not a huge crop but a good-sizing crop.”
Rain fell during bloom in the Stockton area, which should prevent overcropping, said Tom Gotelli, a member of the family that owns O-G Packing.
“It’s been so cold,” he said.
The crop should be marketable with enough volume but not so much to hurt fruit size, he said.
Shales expects good, promotable volume to hit retail around Memorial Day and stretch into June. That means some overlap with the Northwest crop, but that’s preferrable to a gap with no cherries, which the industry experienced last year, she said. In 2022, California growers harvested just 5.3 million boxes, and Northwest growers had a late and low 13.3 million.
Northwest growers expect their crop to run seven to 10 days late, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, which collectively markets fruit for growers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana.
As of mid-April, Northwest growers expected to begin harvest June 10.
“While starting a few days later than normal will be a good thing this year, with the late California crop, I still like to see us get going (earlier) in June than later,” Thurlby said. “On late-start years, we see more compression of the crop in July, which can be a challenge for the industry.”
Things could easily change with the weather, Thurlby said.
Growing degree-day data put 2023 on pace with 2011 and 2019, Thurlby said. In 2011, the weather stayed cool, and harvest didn’t start until June 15. However, in 2019, a warm May pushed the harvest start date forward to June 5.
—by Ross Courtney and Kate Prengaman