By DAN WHEAT
A California cherry marketer got a two-week jump on the season this year by selling cherries grown in greenhouses.
The same thing is being done in Spain and several other countries.
Grower Direct Marketing and OG Packing, both of Stockton, Calif., announced April 22 that they were in their second week of harvesting hothouse cherries while regular harvest is expected to start in orchards near Arvin, southeast of Bakersfield, about April 27.
"We are very excited to get our product into the marketplace and for our customers to be able to offer the first California cherries to their customers," said Jim Hanson, managing member of Grower Direct Marketing.
OG Packing has been working on hothouse cherries for nearly a decade and quietly sold a few last season, said Daniel Moznett, Grower Direct's director of marketing.
A few thousand boxes are being sold this season, mainly to importers in Europe, Asia and Brazil with some sold domestically, he said.
Cherries Glamour, greenhouse cherries grown in northeast Spain by S.A.T. Edoa, were sold for the first time in North America about a month ago, in eastern Canada. The cherries may be approved for sale in the U.S. in 2014 or 2015.
France, Bulgaria and Japan all have greenhouse cherries in production, Moznett said. They are competing, along with Grower Direct Marketing, for high-end, niche markets, he said.
OG Packing's cherries are being grown in large greenhouses in Northern California, Moznett said. He did not reveal the location, volume or pricing.
While cherries ripen earlier in greenhouses, weather has remained the biggest challenge, Moznett said. Outside temperatures and the amount of sunshine and rain all affect the timing of crop development and horticultural practices, he said. Field trials involved countless losses in production, he said.
Brooks, Tulare and several proprietary varieties are being grown, he said.
Greenhouse cherries are not practical on a large scale so OG Packing and Grower Direct Marketing foresee them remaining a specialty item that makes good money and heightens product awareness.
California's regular crop appears moderate but still close in size to 8 million, 18-pound boxes, Moznett said. May and June are heaviest months as harvest spreads from Bakersfield north through Fresno, Stockton, Lodi, Morada and Maryville.