Unseasonably cold temperatures occurring at bloom time may have taken some of the shine off the Pacific Northwest cherry crop, but"there’s definitely a crop here," said B.J. Thurlby during a meeting of the five member states of Northwest Cherry Growers. The five-state fresh-market cherry crop is expected to be down by around 20 percent, but it could still be the third-largest crop on record.
A forecast of 120,290 tons was the first official estimate of the fresh cherry crop from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana, made on May 7 by representatives of the five states. (120,000 tons is equivalent to about 12.2 million boxes.) While the crop estimate will be further refined as the season progresses, Northwest Cherry Growers and cherry marketers need a preliminary number in order to set up cherry promotions and advertising weeks before harvest begins.
â€œIt could be the third-largest crop in history, with the caveat that crop numbers could go down or they could go up," Thurlby said. New acreage coming into production helped blunt the full impact of damage from the cold temperatures. Cherry acreage in the five states is estimated to be around 57,000 acres, according to industry officials.
Washington’s cherry outlook is mixed. Overall, the volume is predicted to be down about 25 percent from last year, dropping from 123,380 tons in 2007 to 91,200 tons in 2008. The Wenatchee district is projected to be around 50,000 tons, down from last year’s 70,000. Growers north of Wenatchee fared well and did not experience temperatures as cold as other areas, said Norm Gutzwiler of Malaga."There’s still a cherry crop there," he said, adding that it depends on the grower and microclimate. â€˜some have good crops, and some got hit pretty hard."
The Mid-Columbia area should fare better than last year as the region produced only 183 tons in 2007. Volume for Mid-Columbia was pegged at 1,200 tons for 2008, about 250 percent more than last year. Delayed bloom helped protect some orchards from the cold, said Jim Ã‚ÂKelley of Pasco."I believe we will have a pretty reasonable crop for the Tri-Cities district."
Cherry growers in the Yakima Valley were among the most affected by the cold temperatures. Last year, the district picked nearly 53,000 tons; the initial crop estimate for 2008 is 40,000 tons."Orchards in the Grandview-Prosser area were probably our hardest-hit area," said Mike Wade of Columbia Fruit Packers in Wenatchee. But even in that area, damage is a mixed bag. He added that in some cases, orchards with full crops can be found two miles away from some of the hardest-hit blocks.
Grandview’s Don Olmstead, Jr., agreed that some locations have good crops, while some locations are without fruit.
Oregon, with a crop estimate of 24,640 tons, is forecasting a larger crop than last year’s 18,578 tons. Bridget Bailey said that some areas of The Dalles look like they have a decent crop, while others were hurt. Bloom was late in The Dalles, but Gip Redman, field representative for Oregon Cherry Growers, thinks the cooperative’s growers have a better crop than last year.
â€œYes, we got banged, but we still have got a lot of cherries out there," Redman said."And there will be large cherries. There’s a lot of new acreage coming into production."
Idaho is estimating a jump from last year of nearly twofold, from 972 tons to 2,800 tons. Utah growers forecast a crop slightly less than last year, from 376 to 250 tons in 2008.
Montana growers are forecasting a crop of 1,400 tons, down from 2,000 tons picked last year. Most of the cherries produced in Montana are packed in Washington.
In the past five years, the initial crop estimate has been within 5 to 6 percent of actual crop volumes, Thurlby said. Before the season starts, he will have polled field representatives three more times to further adjust projections.
Historically, based on previous shipping records, fresh cherry shipments have peaked on June 26, Thurlby said. However, the late bloom this year will likely push peak shipment back to June 30 or perhaps later. A later peak is a challenge for cherry marketers working with retailers who want to set promotions for the Fourth of July, he explained.
Thurlby reported that California cherry producers initially estimated their crop was the same as last year, around 7.7 million boxes. But he recently received information indicating the crop will end up near 8 to 9 million boxes.
Some growers in California’s northern districts are applying full rates of gibberellin acid to size up cherries and move their harvest dates back, knowing that the Northwest will be late in starting.
â€œI think what we"re seeing is that there will be limited crossover with California cherries that are still in the Âmarket when we start." Thurlby added,"I think we"ll have a pretty robust July. Yes, there might be statistically some dips in July, but there is going to be a lot of fruit, and we will need all of July to sell our fruit."
Most importantly, he noted that the crop will be large enough to attract workers to the region, though it will be down from previous year’s totals.
The five-state group voted to keep grower assessment rates at the same level of $18 per ton for promotion. Washington and Oregon growers pay an additional amount to support research."