Blush cherries.  (Courtesy Washington State University)

Blush cherries. (Courtesy Washington State University)

Though official crop volume estimation numbers won’t be available until mid-May, the Washington State Fruit Commission is gearing up for a strong cherry crop in 2014. Trees are healthy from winter dormancy and early indications point to a robust crop, which could be anywhere between 20 to 25 million boxes—if Mother Nature cooperates.

Last year’s crop was poised to be around 20 million boxes, but after repeated rain in early summer, the industry lost close to 4 million boxes, and the crop totaled a disappointing 14.3 million 20-pound box equivalents.

During the Fruit Commission’s March meeting, held in Yakima, the commission approved a $6.9 million budget for cherry and soft fruit promotions in 2014. The $6.9 million budget number is based on 20 million boxes of cherries and includes $1.74 million that will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program. The recently passed farm bill included funding for the program, which provides money to agricultural groups for foreign market promotions.

Funding from the Market Access Program represents a 30 percent increase from past MAP funds, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Fruit Commission. Northwest cherries will receive $1.6 million in USDA money; soft fruits will receive $133,000. “We’re receiving about $300,000 more in MAP money this year, which makes this year’s export budget the largest ever,” said Thurlby.

Export markets are critical in helping market larger cherry crop volumes, he added. Export and domestic promotions for cherries are conducted by Northwest Cherry Growers and represent sweet cherries from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana. The Fruit Commission conducts promotions on behalf of Washington State producers of apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums/prunes.

In the upcoming season, export promotions for cherries are planned for Korea, Australia, China, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, European Union, Brazil, and Japan. Export activities for Washington apricots are planned for Mexico.

In other business, the Fruit Commission approved keeping the grower-paid assessment at current rates of $18 per ton for fresh cherries, $5 per ton for processed cherries, $12 per ton for fresh market soft fruit, and $1 per ton for graded, processed soft fruit.

Steve Carlson of Del Monte Foods, Yakima, was appointed Fruit Commission chair for 2014-2015. Two new commissioners were seated on the board after industry nominations and appointment by the director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture: Jill Douglas, general manager of Douglas Fruit, a grower/packer in Pasco, and Doug Field, president of Excel Fruit in Yakima, a broker for processed fruit dealing in apples, pears, and cherries.

Cherry grower representatives from the five states will meet May 21 in Richland, Washington, to discuss volume and timing of this year’s crop. For meeting information, contact the Fruit Commission at (509) 453-4837 or e-mail •