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Damage to cherries in recent rainy weather in the Lodi, California, area in May 2019. <b>(Courtesy Joe Cataldo/J&M Farms)</b>

Damage to cherries in recent rainy weather in the Lodi, California, area in May 2019. (Courtesy Joe Cataldo/J&M Farms)

Firm estimates were unavailable, but a rainy month of May has derailed what was projected to have been a record California cherry crop.

“The consensus is that we’ve had a significant reduction,” said Mike Collins of Stemilt, and chair of the California Cherry Board’s estimate committee, on Friday.

California cherry growers originally predicted a harvest of about 10.5 million 20-pound box equivalents, which would have been the largest in state history. That was a conservative estimate, Collins said, but weather affects the crop nearly every year in some way.

Growers have discussed the rain damage but were unable this week to come up with a new estimate, he said. As it usually goes with cherry season, rain damage varies depending on variety and location. Some orchards did OK while others won’t pick at all.

However, he suspects all but one of the state’s cherry varieties will come in at 50 percent of the group’s original estimates, or lower. Only Brooks is still projected to come close to the original projection, he said.

This year, rain all through May affected nearly every variety and every region of California, Collins said, though the heart of the state’s cherry growing regions, San Joaquin and Sacramento counties, received numerous storms May 16–20.

“It happened to come at likely the worst timing,” Collins said.

California shippers still have one big question mark. They are not sure how the state’s most voluminous variety, the Bing, will pan out. Original predictions called for 4.5 million boxes, but cool weather and rain delayed the start of harvest until next week.

A late, cool spring up and down the West Coast pushed California and Northwest sweet cherry growers back a week or more this year.

Growers in the Northwest expect to harvest 24.3 million 20-pound box equivalents, according to a Friday crop estimate from the Northwest Cherry Growers, a Yakima, Washington, trade organization that collectively markets cherries produced in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah.

—by Ross Courtney