The 2012 Northwest cherry season was a challenging one, but growers need to focus on next season and not worry about the things they can’t control, B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, said during the annual Cherry Institute meeting in January.
Last season, the industry shipped almost 23 million boxes—the largest volume ever. In July, daily shipments averaged a record 430,000 boxes.
California shipped 8.5 million 18-pound boxes (the equivalent of 7.7 million 20-pound boxes), which brought the total fresh cherry crop for the West Coast to more than 30 million boxes, Thurlby reported.
Thurlby described it as one of the most challenging seasons he’s experienced, with a relatively late start in the Northwest (June 13) and 16 rain events in Washington’s cherry growing districts. “It was almost like the rain followed the harvest this year,” he said, noting that rain causes confusion in the market and backs up supplies.
Fruit size, particularly early in the season, was affected by cool spring weather. Over the course of the season, 66 percent of the cherries shipped were 10.5 row and larger. Thurlby said he would like to have seen larger cherries going to market in June when 31 percent of the cherries were 11 row, 19 percent 11.5 row, and 4 percent 12 row.
Increasing volumes of cherries are being shipped later in the summer as growers plant later-maturing varieties. This year, 4.6 million boxes (20 percent of the crop) were shipped in August.
“We think this is going to be an important part of our manifest moving forward,” Thurlby said, adding that Northwest Cherry Growers, the promotion arm of the industry, is working to ensure plenty of retailers in the United States and around the world are still giving shelf space to cherries through the end of the season.
On the positive side, advertising for cherries set a record in both domestic and foreign markets, and the volume of cherries shipped to export markets increased by 43 percent to 8 million boxes.
Keith Hu, international marketing director with Northwest Cherry Growers, reported that 35 percent of the 2012 crop was shipped outside the United States. Exports to China totaled 2.15 million boxes, up from 1.5 million the previous year. Shipments to Japan also increased.
Exports to Korea increased by 86 percent, thanks to a free trade agreement with the United States that went into effect last spring. The agreement eliminated a 28 percent tariff, resulting in lower retail prices.
China (including Hong Kong) was the second-largest export market for Northwest cherries, taking 27 percent of total cherry exports compared with 32 percent that went to Canada. Hu said Canada was a strong market in the early season, but China was stronger towards the end of the season, as many of the cherries that go to China are shipped by sea.
The season-average price per box for Northwest cherries was $35.67, down from $42.50 a box last year, according to the Washington Growers Clearing House Association. Those prices do not include adjustments.
Thurlby said growers should focus on the things they can control, not the things they can’t control. Northwest Cherry Growers has been working to build advertising activity, generate consumer publicity, and get the retail trade excited about cherries.
“As growers, you have the ability to step up and do the things you need to do to grow the great cherries the market expects,” he said. “We have to move forward and not worry about what happened last year or what we can’t control. We need to move forward in a positive way.”