Up to this point, the theme for the 2011 Northwest Cherry season has been “hurry up and wait.” On that note, I saw some cherries showing slight red in the Columbia Basin last week. In a normal year, we would be harvesting those cherries today. For better or for worse…this has not been a “normal year” in the cherry business. It appears that the earliest pick here in the Pacific Northwest will be on or near June 13th, which will make this the latest start for cherry harvest that most growers have ever seen. When you have the coldest April on record, and the third-wettest May ever…the inevitable result is a later harvest.
However, there still appears to be a moderate-size crop on the trees, and we will have all of July and August to harvest and ship the 2011 bounty. As for the nuances of this crop, the Northwest Cherry Growers estimation team believes the crop is in the range of 17.2 million 20-pound-equivalent boxes. We experienced a bloom that was spread throughout our growing districts and if mother nature stays true to the adage, “65 days from bloom to harvest,” we will have almost 90 days to sell this crop…with the last cherries shipping out in early September.
Based on Fieldmen estimates, the Northwest peak harvest receipts appear to be lining up for July 5th. July will be our largest month for volume again this year. We will need ad activity throughout the month to move the crop in an organized manner. July should see 9- to 10-million boxes depending on Northwest weather patterns over the next month. All indicators point to the largest volume ever in the month of August. Previously, the Northwest shipped 2.3 million boxes in August of 2009. The 2011 August harvest is expected to be in the range of 4 million boxes.
To date, the California industry has shipped 4.8 million boxes. Northern California saw rain over the weekend and they are trying to cautiously work through the remainder of the crop. As the weather has stayed cool, there is hope that cherries from the Stockton/Lodi district will be salvageable. One of the positive pieces of having a late harvest start is that we miss some of the spring rains that can decimate our crop. As all of us know, the down side is that we miss the 4th of July holiday, which is the number-one produce sales holiday, and cherries have traditionally been the number-one sales item during that holiday.
2011 is the Year of the Pie
Further good news is that the world market appears to be primed for the excitement that cherries bring to their stores, homes, and offices. Interestingly, the world of food writers and various culinary TV personalities have dubbed 2011 “the year of the pie.” As part of our broad consumer publicity campaign this year, we have endeavored to incorporate a high level of interest from the food media on the fact that sweet cherries make for the perfect pie ingredient. We plan to utilize the culinary skills of a wide variety of “food bloggers” to develop cherry pie recipes that will be distributed on line through social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. This spring we have received strong interest in this effort from foodies from such online publications as the Chicago Sun Times, AOL Food, Huffington Post, Home Arts, Chow.com and the Farm Chicks.