By DAN WHEAT
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Slim pickings of early cherry varieties in Central Washington are finishing and California's cherry harvest is done, so a 10-day gap in supply will challenge marketers, says the president of an industry trade organization.
"The prevalence of California cherries in the market was light all the way through (it's May to mid-June season). Retailers want cherries but there are not a lot to be had right now," said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima.
Among retailers across the nation only 50 cherry ads were run the week of June 2 and that was the biggest week so far, Thurlby said. The average is 170 per week in July, he said.
"For the next 10 days there will be a real gap in the market and it will challenge (fruit company) marketers to recapture shelf space," Thurlby said on June 11.
But by June 22 volume will increase as harvest of Bing begins in earnest in Washington and Oregon, he said. By then shipments should be running 200,000 boxes per day compared with 200,000 for the first 10 days of June, he said. Shipments normally average 400,000 boxes a day in July.
Supply will be tight and less than desired through the Fourth of July -- what traditionally has been a big volume sales window. It has been foiled by weather for several seasons.
The total Northwest crop was forecast at 18.2 million 20-pound boxes on May 15, but now is estimated at 16 million to 17 million. That's 26 to 30 percent down from last year's record 22.9 million. May 21-19 rain reduced early varieties, like Chelan and Tieton, by 30 to 40 percent, Thurlby said.
Shawn Ballard, an East Wenatchee grower who also owns orchard in near Mattawa, said he lost 35 to 40 percent of his Chelans.
"We had close to three-fourths of an inch of rain in one day and had the helicopters in four times that day to dry the fruit," Ballard said. "No one down there escaped and some walked away (didn't pick)."
It's good to harvest the fruit if at all possible because letting it rot on trees increases insects and can kill weaker trees, he said.
With a lighter crop, fruit size is larger, which is good for sales but it's more prone to splitting in the rain, he said.
Labor has been adequate and he's even turned pickers away, he said.
Norm Gutzwiler, a Wenatchee-area grower, said he got 2 tons per acre on his Chelans and that the front end of Bings likely will be 1.5 to 3.5 tons per acre versus the desired 9 to 10 tons per acre.
"As we get into the later districts, higher elevations and north country, we will see 5 tons," he said. "But no one will be picking 10 to 12 tons."
Some growers of early varieties in the south didn't pick because of high rain cullage on what already was a light crop from poor pollination, he said.