Northwest sweet cherry growers are predicting a 2022 crop of 13.6 million 20-pound box equivalents, or 136,800 tons, which is down significantly from recent years due to the mid-April snowstorm that blew through the region in the middle of bloom.

Growers at the Northwest Cherry Growers’ five-state meeting Wednesday in Richland, Washington, in a hybrid meeting conducted both in person and virtually, commented widely that they expected the crop to vary greatly from block to block, by variety and by district.

Just last week, Northwest Cherry Growers released its first crop estimate from 16 field representatives across Washington and Oregon. That estimate came in at about 15 million 20-pound box equivalents.

Ten days later, the crop estimate is down further.

The last time the crop estimate fell below 14 million boxes was in 2008. Of course, the industry at that time had about two-thirds of the acreage it does today, and it was a completely different production landscape, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, which collectively promotes sweet cherries for growers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana. 

“This is going to be one of those crops that’s just going to continue to get shorter,” he said.

Grower estimates for each region, by ton:

—Washington: 104,500.

—Oregon: 29,200.

—Idaho: 2,000.

—Montana: 800.

—Utah: 300.

“I think it’s a very reasonable, accurate look at where this crop is, but I still feel like it could go up a little bit if the market is strong — and it still could go down a lot,” Thurlby said. “Depending on how the season is going, some people may decide whether to harvest. It’s going to be a game-time decision for a lot of growers.”

Given the challenging marketplace, there will be numerous factors for growers to consider heading into this season, he said, including the market, labor and the quality of their fruit.

Thurlby and others also expressed concern about the potential repercussions of California’s short, early crop. 

Tate Mathison of Stemilt Growers, which grows and packs fruit in both regions, shared a photo of large, red cherries in California, where he expects harvest to wrap around June 5 or 6. 

Conversely, another photo showed still very green Lapins at a ranch outside Mattawa, Washington, traditionally an earlier Washington site that harvested around June 12 last year and this year is “still a ways out.” 

“We’re late, they’re early, and there’s going to be a fairly significant gap” in the market, he said.

However, there is good separation in growing degree-days between the Northwest districts, which are less likely to overlap harvest this year, Thurlby said.

“We’re definitely going to need 90 days to sell this crop,” he said, “and that’s a good thing.”

Growers expect harvest to begin around June 10. 

Growers also approved an assessment rate of $18 per ton for the 2022 sweet cherry crop.

by Shannon Dininny