Northwest cherry growers expect to harvest a record crop of high quality fruit, barring any unforeseen setbacks.
Representatives of the Northwest cherry industry, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Utah, met in Richland, Washington, on May 16 to compile the first official estimate of the season. The forecast of 203,165 tons (20.3 million packed 20-pound boxes) matches the first estimate released by a group of field horticulturists who will continue to monitor the crop through the growing season. Those 18 horticulturists from 18 different packing companies represent about 80 percent of the Northwest cherry tonnage.
The breakdown of the estimated crop by state is: Washington, 167,465 tons; Oregon, 33,300 tons; Idaho, 1,500 tons; and Utah 500 tons. Montana’s 1,500 tons will be packed in Washington and are included in that estimate.
Tate Mathison, with Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, Washington, said many of the state’s producers are reporting a 15 to 20 percent increase in volume over last year when the Northwest produced 18.3 million boxes of cherries. Bing, the region’s major variety, set a good crop of 6 to 8 tons per acre, but growers were seeing some heavy drop, Mathison said. Self-fertile varieties, including Sweetheart, Lapins, and Skeena, are producing crops of 10 to 12 tons per acre.
A 20-million-box crop would be similar in size to the previous record crop in 2009, which presented marketing challenges. However, producers see reasons to be more optimistic about the coming season. The bloom was more spread out, which should result in a less compressed harvest, and the season should get off to an earlier start. Harvest was initially forecast to begin on June 8, but recent hot weather should advance maturity. In 2009, the industry had only 17 shipping days in June and much of the crop came onto the market after the Fourth of July, which is the key shipping period for cherries.
Wenatchee producers are forecasting 82,500 tons, just a little higher than in 2009. Mathison said early varieties in the Wenatchee district boomed on April 14, but the latest blocks at Stemilt Hill near Wenatchee were still blooming the day before the meeting. Weather had been conducive to good pollination.
Mike Mrachek of Malaga, Washington, who chaired the meeting, said the crop might be bigger still. “I drive around a lot and when the wind’s blowing, even on the Bings, I see a lot of cherries,” he said. “You don’t see them up close, but when the wind’s blowing they’re there.”
The Yakima district crop is forecast at 82,265 tons. Gip Redman of Wapato, said Yakima area producers are expecting more Bings than last year but not a huge crop, as it is inconsistent from orchard to orchard.
Peter Verbrugge of Sage Fruit Company, Yakima, said the crop is clean and the fruit nicely spread on the trees. Trees on Gisela rootstocks have set particularly good crops, he said. “We’ll see good packouts due to good quality fruit.”
Fruit from Washington’s Tri-Cities area is transported to either the Wenatchee or Yakima districts for packing. Jim Kelley of Kennewick said some orchards in the district have a small crop because of spring frosts. Although the weather wasn’t colder than in other districts, tree development was more advanced. Overall, though, the district will have a much larger crop than last year, though not a phenomenal one, he said. The crop should be high quality with large fruit size, although he reported seeing more doubles than expected.
Denny Hayden of Pasco reported a significantly higher crop than last year, with orchards producing seven tons per acre where they produced three to four tons last year. The trees are not overcropped, however, and the cherries should be clean and larger than last year’s with long stems, he said. “It’s a very nice crop. I’m seeing that everywhere we drive. It should be an excellent quality crop and good volume.”
The Dalles, Oregon, is expecting a record crop of 23,500 tons. Yields should be much higher on self-fertile varieties and new acreage is coming into production. Producers in nearby Hood River, Oregon, expect to harvest a record 6,500 tons. Bing blocks have crops of five to six tons, and self-fertile varieties have set the biggest crop ever seen, representatives reported.