As we wait for the needed warm weather of June to bring forward this year’s Northwest Cherry crop … our partners at the USDA have posted a new standard on Washington-grown Rainier Cherries. After a year of discussion in Washington, D.C., Rainier cherries grown in Washington state may now be packaged as “Premium” if they have the right size, color, and brix content. The hope is that growers who go to the effort to produce a “Premium”-pack Rainier will be rewarded for their efforts in the marketplace. The actual regulations posted in the 7 CFR 923 of the Federal Register are below:
This final rule changes the handling regulation for cherries under the marketing order. Specifically, this rule adds minimum requirements for Rainier cherries and other lightly-colored sweet cherry varieties that are designated as ‘‘premium’’ when marketed. Under this regulation, when labeled ‘‘premium,” a Rainier cherry or other lightly-colored sweet cherry variety container must be packed so that at least 90 percent, by count, of the cherries in any lot shall measure not less than 64⁄64 inch (101⁄2 row) in diameter and not more than 5 percent, by count, may be less than 61⁄64 inch (11-row) in diameter. In addition, 90 percent, by count, of the cherries in any lot must exhibit a pink-to-red surface blush. For any given sample, not more than 20 percent of the cherries shall be absent a pink-to-red surface blush.
Rainier cherries and other lightly colored sweet cherry varieties have variety-specific minimum size and maturity requirements as well as the same pack requirements as all Washington sweet cherries, but do not share the minimum-grade requirements with dark-colored cherries. As just stated, Rainier cherries and other lightly-colored sweet cherry varieties have certain current mandatory grading requirements, including a minimum maturity requirement of 17 percent soluble solids and a minimum size requirement of 61⁄64 inch diameter (11-row) as provided in section 923.322(c). However, lightly-colored varieties are not currently required to meet a minimum grade or pack standard. As a consequence, the cherry industry markets several different qualities or packs of lightly colored sweet cherries without the benefit of any clear differentiation between competing products. This lack of differentiation in the marketing of lightly-colored sweet cherries has led to market confusion and downward pricing pressure in recent years. Although research showing a correlation between the flavor of lightly colored sweet cherry varieties and the degree of reddish blush is lacking, actual market experience has shown the industry that a definite price correlation exists…. This is largely due to consumer preference for lightly colored cherries that exhibit a reddish blush.