Pacific Northwest cherries aim for record

Dan Wheat
Cherry growers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana are closing in on the finish of a probable record crop and a season of good prices.

YAKIMA, Wash. — Pacific Northwest cherry growers are likely to set a record for volume when they finish the season in another week.

As of Aug. 5, 22.5 million, 20-pound boxes of cherries had been shipped and that number will grow, most likely surpassing the record 22.96 million boxes of 2012, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, the industry’s trade association in Yakima.

Even more than 2012, this season proved the industry can successfully handle large crops, Thurlby said.

That wasn’t the case in 2009 when a 20.5-million-box crop came off in a compressed 45 days, glutting packers and retailers and causing some fruit to be dumped. Some growers suffered losses.

The key to success with a large crop is an early start, which happened this season, Thurlby said. A record 10.1 million boxes were shipped in June, up from the previous record of 7 million in 2005.

In July 12.2 million boxes were shipped, the third largest amount for that month.

“We shipped 22 million boxes in 60 days. Normally that would take more like 90 days,” Thurlby said.

Shipments averaged 500,000 boxes a day over 33 days, which is very good, he said.

Washington prices have been good with the season-to-date wholesale average for Bing at $36.96 per box as of July 26 compared with $57.01 a year ago and $34.41 two years ago, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee. Prices were higher last year because the crop was smaller at 14.25 million boxes, he said.

Rainier was at $40.68 per 15-pound box this season compared with $53.01 a year ago and $40.95 two years ago, Kelly said.

The season average of all varieties was $35.67 in 2012 and this year it probably will be slightly higher, he said.

“It’s been a good year. We came out blazing in June and California had a small crop, which got us out fast,” Kelly said.

“I can’t remember a better cherry season,” said Kyle Mathison, owner of Kyle Mathison Orchards and vice president of Stemilt Growers Inc.

“I have to pinch myself, it’s been so good. As bad as California was, Washington was that good,” he said.

But too many hot days in July lessened quality some and slowed the growth of fruit size, Mathison said. A cooler week in the middle of the month helped, he said.

West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers, said he was amazed at the industry’s ability to ship 450,000 boxes per day. He said it showed good consumer demand.

“This is a big crop and we moved it efficiently through the system,” he said.

Washington will total about 18 million boxes, Oregon 3.5 million and Idaho, Utah and Montana 700,000, Thurlby said. A July 18 rain cost Oregon about 400,000 boxes worth of fruit in higher elevations around The Dalles and Hood River, he said.

Kyle Mathison’s Staccato cherries on Wenatchee’s Stemilt Hill are the last to be picked in the Northwest, Thurlby said.

That will be Aug. 16, which is earlier because heat is ripening the crop faster, said Jaime Reyes, Mathison’s orchard production manager. The latest was Sept. 1, 2011, he said, noting the fruit is also the highest at 3,600 feet in elevation.



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