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Good start for Washington cherry harvest

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Washington is off to great start harvesting a large cherry crop while California concludes a light, rough season.

CHELAN, Wash. — A decent wind blew up the Columbia River and through an orchard north of Chelan where a crew was busy picking Santina cherries.

“It’s not that hard,” said foreman David Jimenez when asked if the wind might damage the cherries or impede picking.

Sometimes harvest stops if wind threatens to knock pickers off ladders and Santinas are not as easily bruised by knocking into each other in the wind as Rainiers, he said.

It was the morning of June 9, the ninth day of Washington’s three-month cherry season.

Washington is off to a stellar start while California wraps a dismal crop.

Washington shipped 600,000, 20-pound boxes of cherries in its first week through June 8, while California closed in on 2.7 million, 18-pound boxes for its entire eight-week season.

The norm for California is 8 million boxes. A mild winter prevented a good fruit set. The Pacific Northwest, where Washington is the dominate player, expects to reach 20.7 million boxes by the end of August. Washington growers, who have seen wind and rain damage their crops many times, are hopeful they’ll make it.

“We still think we’ll hit 7 million to 8 million boxes in June, if we can keep mother nature on our team,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima. The record for June is 7.5 million in 2005. For the first time in years, there could be good volume for Fourth of July sales.

Picking began May 31 in Pasco and Mattawa with the first official day of shipment on June 1, Thurlby said. That’s back to normal after seven years of late springs and late starts, he said.

Justin Brown, Royal City, said his crew picked the first Rainier in the state June 9. “It’s going to be a pretty good year,” he said.

Early varieties like Chelan, Santina, Tieton and Early Robin were being picked throughout Central Washington from Pasco to north of Chelan. Thurlby said volume was reaching 100,000 to 200,000 boxes per day and would peak at 500,000 daily around June 23 before hitting a second peak of similar volume in mid-July. Northwest Cherry Growers’ forecast is for 7.6 million boxes in June, 11.1 million in July and 2 million in August.

Picking began June 9 in The Dalles, Ore., and Milton-Freewater soon will, said LeRoy Nickerson, co-administrator of the Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission in Hood River. Idaho will start about June 14, Utah next week and Montana later in June, Thurlby said.

The California season ended “pretty ugly” as the lack of winter chill affected volume and quality. Exported fruit didn’t hold up, one source there said.

“We’re not hearing a lot of positive from the trade on how California cherries are standing up on the shelf, but their Bings look better than earlier fruit so that’s a positive,” Thurlby said.

Tim Sambado, president of Prima Frutta, Linden, Calif., said quality “was adequate, not superior.” The company’s new high-tech Compac sizer-sorter was a big help in culling out immature fruit with less labor, he said. More fruit went for brining than usual, he said.

The crop was light and uneven in maturity because too many sunny, warm days in winter negated nighttime chilling, he said.

“There were no overcast days, no foggy days,” he said. “We didn’t have any Seattle weather.”


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