By DAN WHEAT
Preliminary assessments show normal cherry and pear crops in California this year while it's too early for a read on apples.
Cherry harvest started near Arvin and Bakersfield on April 26. The crop should total 8.1 million boxes by the time picking wraps up in Northern California in late June, said Chris Zanobini, executive director of the California Cherry Advisory Board in Sacramento.
The April 23 estimate is for 3.54 million boxes of Bings, 1.5 million of Brooks and less than 1 million each for other varieties, Zanobini said.
The forecast is down from last season's 8.4 million-box harvest, which was the third largest in California history. The record was 8.9 million boxes in 2010 followed by 8.6 million in 2008.
Last year, the early Bakersfield area crop was extremely light. Trees didn't produce much because they never became fully dormant in the preceding warm, dry winter, Tom Gotelli, plant manager of OG Packing, Stockton, said at the time. Yields increased as harvest spread north.
The early crop is much better this season, said Don Walters, a domestic salesman at Grower Direct Marketing in Stockton.
"It's not a heavy crop by any means, but much more than last year," Walters said.
The cherries are good size and the first week's worth will be exported to Asia at prices of more than $100 per box, he said.
Depending on size, volume and quality, prices range from the high $20s to mid $40s per box during the peak of the season from mid-May to mid-June, he said.
The season has begun with good weather but frost, wind, rain and heat are always concerns.
Rain reduced the 2011 crop to 6.1 million boxes and the 2005 crop to about 3 million, which was half the norm at that time.
"We hope to get through the season with as little rain as possible," Walters said. "Every season there can be a shower here or there, but some years there's not a lot of rain."
Zanobini, who is also executive director of the California Pear Advisory Board, said the 2013 pear crop looks heavier in the Sacramento River District while Bosc looks light in the Mountain District. Other varieties there look good, he said.
"It could be a compressed season with normal timing on the river and earlier in the mountains," he said. "Everyone is concerned about labor for all crops."
California usually produces about 4.5 million, 36-pound boxes of pears.
The apple crop appears to be progressing nicely but it's too early to give an estimate, said Alex Ott, executive director of the California Apple Commission in Fresno.
Though the crop was once larger, California in recent years has produced about 6 million, 40-pound boxes of apples annually with half for fresh market and half for processing.
Last year the fresh crop was down 30 percent at 2.1 million due to weather, Ott said.