It’s June 12th 2013 and the Northwest Cherry harvest for this season is officially underway. We saw our first shipments leave the industry on June 7th.   Volume over the next week or so is expected to be very limited. We have shipped just over 300,000 boxes to date and expect to see increasing volumes by next week when our earliest Bing orchards will begin to bear fruit. According to our Round 3 early June crop estimate… our team of 20 industry fieldmen/packing houses still see potential for a 17-million, 20-lb. equivalent box season. The crop is light on the front end and fairly normal in July … and with the warmer weather and early start we are seeing in June … the month of August is going to be shorter than we have seen the past two years when almost 5 million boxes were shipped.

Each year, we at the Northwest Cherry Growers undertake the challenge of putting together an accurate assessment of the annual sweet cherry crop for the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah. To coin a phrase … this undertaking can sometimes be “like throwing darts in a windstorm.” There is a great deal of work that goes into generating this data. Since 1999, the estimation team has averaged accuracy within 3 percent of the actual crop yields. Of course, there are years like 2003 when the industry saw a significant leap in new production; as a result, the estimate came in 28% below the actual crop volume. Conversely, years like 2003 are balanced by years like 2009 when the estimation team was within .08% accuracy of the actual crop.

Our estimate program is headed by David Marshall of AgriManagement, Inc., and supported almost daily by the team here at the NW Cherry Growers.  Mr. Marshall is an agricultural economist who over the past 15 years has helped us develop a robust crop estimation model that applies science in the form of regression data, current field data and observations, planned receipt data (both supplied by the hard work of the industry field team from 20 key packing houses) and degree day unit impact. Likewise, we start the season with an expected average rate of crop loss due to weather events and processing industry needs to formulate an adjusted fresh estimate.

Over the years, growers have always asked what are the biggest challenges to coming up with an accurate crop estimate? As always, the challenge each year is in the variables that we cannot predict with a model. The primary culprits to inaccurate crop estimation are in short order:

1) Weather events

2)  New acreage coming into production

The weather this year has been as unpredictable as any we have seen … and this is a big statement as we have seen 7 years of cold and unpredictable spring weather. The month of May was historically significant in the fact that we saw the hottest early May weather in 20 years …. then the coldest late May weather in that same time span. The drastic transition from the early parched heat to record wet and cold later in the month make May of 2013 singularly unique. Throw in 2.5 inches of rainfall over central Washington in the month … and you have a challenging cherry crop estimation scenario.

As for new plantings coming into production, we have been assuming an annual increase of potential volume of 1%.  Certainly, nurseries continue to sell cherry trees and growers continue plant new acres and replant older orchards … which can lead to unpredicted spikes in production from year to year.

For today, we see a crop potential for 170,000 fresh tons here in the Northwest. We see a market that is primed for the best cherries in the world. We see an estimate that should be within 3% accuracy based on historical success. Onward to a successful harvest!