The 2006 Pacific Northwest cherry season was mixed, with some areas hit by rain and high temperatures that resulted in poor quality. Cherry packers shipped a record 14.7 million boxes (20-pound equivalent), outpacing the previous season by 3 million boxes, according to the Washington State Fruit Commission.

Discussions are beginning on whether minimum quality standards should be introduced for sweet cherries. Minimum soluble solids and size standards were established for Rainier cherries in 1994, and more recently for other light-colored varieties. Some producers have suggested that 12-row cherries drag down prices and should be eliminated. We asked several growers if they think there should be minimum size and soluble solids requirements for cherries:

Rick Derrey, grower, Zillah, Washington


“Small cherries are not going to make it.”
Derrey has given the question much thought lately, going back and forth within his own mind, he said. “The industry certainly needs some standards whether they are implemented within industry or at the marketplace. It’s already happening in that small cherries are not going to make it.”

But he still struggles with the idea of permanent standards. “I know the benefits of 12-row versus 11.5-row, but where you set the standards—is it 16° Brix or 18° Brix?—there’s a lot to take into consideration. There are so many different varieties. Do you set quality standards across the board or for each individual variety? It’s not an easy answer.”

The industry did away with small, 13-row cherries, he noted. “But it’s not just size,” he said, adding that he believes discussion about quality standards is important.

Bob Harris, grower, Moxee, Washington


“Let the market dictate what happens.”
Better quality cherries are not predicated on eliminating the 12-row size, he said. “Are we going to restrict rained-on cherries, cherries exposed to high heat, or picked during different moon cycles? We’ll legislate ourselves out of business.” The industry is foolish to think that everything will be better by getting rid of the 12-row, he added. “Some 12-row cherries have had excellent eating quality. Let the market dictate what happens.”

Tim Dahle, grower, The Dalles, Oregon


“It needs to be on the table.”
Dahle is a strong supporter of quality standards, but he believes that implementation will be difficult to benefit the maximum number of growers. “I do think that size and quality standards may need to be flexible to account for year-to-year variations. I’m excited that the issue is getting discussed. It needs to be on the table for industry discussion.”

Tom Gotelli, grower-shipper, Stockton, California


“We prefer to keep government out.”
Gotelli said that his family operation strongly believes in the concepts of free enterprise and free markets, not government regulations. “If you’re not smart enough to catch on that the buyer dictates everything, then you’ll be hurt in the pocketbook.” Buyers have already moved the industry in California regarding cherry size, he said, adding that before, many of the cherries were 12- and 11.5-row cherries, but now, growers are producing larger sizes. “I can see why you’d want to get rid of the 12-row after what happened last year, but we prefer to keep government out.”

Bob Pringle, grower, Naches, Washington


“We need to get away from color standards.”

“I hate to say yes because I hate regulations, but I think we have to do it to save the industry from itself,” he said. “Otherwise we can call it a Red Delicious. Rainiers are a success because we started out with a very good cherry because we went on taste and size, establishing 17 Brix as the minimum standard and 11-row as the minimum size.”

He added that research would be needed to identify minimum soluble solid standards for different varieties. “We need to get away from color standards. We’ve been talking about quality for 26 years, but we’re still in the same rut.”

Mike Mrachek, grower, Wenatchee, Washington


“Some years we don’t have the sugars we’d like.”

“I have no problem getting rid of the 12-row and moving toward the 11-row, but 11.5-row is still a good part of the packout. We need to be careful about eliminating too many sizes. Standards must be set at a point that we could attain—some years we don’t have the sugars that we would like. I would hate to mandate something and then find that we’re shooting ourselves in the foot on some varieties.” Mrachek, who grows midseason varieties, noted that Bings are not known to be large-sized cherries. “If the crop is made up of about 70 percent Bings, which are not huge cherries, then we’d better be careful when it comes to mandating size standards.”