Rain wrecks cherries; Northwest needs warmth
Some California growers abandon picking, file insurance claims
By DAN WHEAT
Rain ruined a large part the last half of the California cherry harvest, and growers in Washington and Oregon hope they get enough warm weather to have cherries for the big Fourth of July market.
Pre-Memorial Day rain split a lot of cherries in California's San Joaquin Valley, resulting in a 40 to 50 percent loss of the second half of the crop, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Stemilt Growers Inc. of Wenatchee, Wash. Stemilt owns Chinchiolo Stemilt California, in Stockton, and is the world's largest sweet cherry producer with most of its production in Washington.
"A lot of growers have quit picking. Packouts are down too much. Some are filing insurance claims. It's pretty devastating," Pepperl said of the California harvest.
California shipped 6 million boxes of cherries as of June 13 and will ship another 1 million to 1.5 million before wrapping up operations about June 20, said Jim Culbertson, executive manager of the California Cherry Advisory Board in Lodi. Each box is 20 pounds.
At the start of the season Culbertson expected a 9 million to 10 million box crop. He said retailers are disappointed with less volume but that prices are good enough that some growers are making money with 50 percent packouts.
Late May and early June rain also split a lot of early Chelan variety cherries in Washington's Yakima District and delayed maturity of Bing and other varieties.
A few late Chelan will be picked, but the entire Chelan crop will be about 200,000 boxes, instead of last year's 1.3 million boxes, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima, Wash.
Picking began in a very light way in Mattawa, Wash., this week and will increase next week but full volume won't be reached until about June 24, Pepperl said.
"We just got over winter last week. The weather pushed us later and later. It doesn't give us much of a June," Pepperl said. "It will be tight with the Fourth. Prices will be a little higher."
The crop looks good in The Dalles, Ore., but is light in most other districts. Growers see 3 to 4 tons per acre on the high side, instead the 6 to 7 ton norm for Bing and Rainier, Thurlby said. Late variety Skeena and Sweetheart look better at 6 to 7 tons in areas, he said.
Too much overlap of the California and Washington crops is no longer a concern, Thurlby said.
"The key thing now is some warm weather to give us some product," Thurlby said.
Northwest harvest should peak about June 25 or 26 and the crop will be about 13.5 million boxes, down but still the fourth largest, Thurlby said.
Pepperl said he thinks the crop will be smaller than that. He said production will be heavy for 10 days before the Fourth, hit a lull as lighter Wenatchee Valley crop is picked and increase for a secondary peak in the second and third weeks of July as higher elevation and cherries north of Wenatchee are picked.
Charles Lyall, a Mattawa grower, said he lost his Chelans, 30 percent of his Tietons and 1 to 5 percent of his Bings.
"I always thought Chelans were suppose to be rain resistant, but we found out differently," he said. "They split just as good as anything I've seen."