Cold, wet weather tortures cherry crop
Cherry leader expects Northwest, California crops to dovetail
By DAN WHEAT
The first official estimate of the 2011 Pacific Northwest cherry crop is 16.4 million, 20-pound boxes, up 17 percent from last season.
In releasing the number on May 17, B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima, Wash., emphasized it's an estimate. He said the crop could be as low as 14 million boxes or as high as 18 million, depending on weather during harvest.
Meanwhile, California cherry growers dealt with May 15-17 rain and hail throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
But temperatures stayed cool enough that damage should be light, said Jim Culbertson, executive manager of the California Cherry Advisory Board in Lodi. Cherries swollen from rain split when temperatures rise too fast after a rain.
The Brooks variety in southern districts cracks at the forecast of rain, Culbertson wryly noted.
Hail damaged some cherries along the Sacramento River between Sacramento and Stockton, he said.
Harvest started May 1 in Bakersfield and spread north to Fresno by May 17.
About 1 million, 18-pound boxes of cherries had been shipped as of May 15, a little ahead of normal, Culbertson said. An average-size crop of about 8.9 million boxes is expected to wrap up at the end of June. Shipments are running 200,000 to 250,000 boxes a day and should maintain that level through the heart of the season, he said.
California's end should dovetail nicely with the Northwest's start, which won't see serious volume until June 24, Thurlby said. The very earliest start may be June 13, two weeks late due to cool weather, he said. Many growers expect to start harvest of the Chelan variety June 17 or 20, he said.
The Northwest crop would easily be over 20 million boxes if there had been no winter freeze damage, Thurlby said.
The estimate was two weeks late due to cool weather and some areas still have not bloomed, Thurlby said.
The estimate is 136,693 tons of fresh-market cherries for Washington, 24,410 for Oregon and 3,118 for Idaho, Utah and Montana.
That compares with an average of the previous five years of 117,403 fresh tons for Washington, 21,959 for Oregon and 1,404 for Idaho, Utah and Montana.
Processed cherries are estimated at 31,296 tons for Washington, 18,160 tons for Oregon and 1,132 tons for Idaho, Utah and Montana. The previous five years averaged 26,879 for Washington, 16,336 for Oregon and 510 for Idaho, Utah and Montana.
A big concern is missing Fourth of July sales. Like last year, probably some 3 million fresh boxes will be shipped in time for the Fourth when it should be double that, Thurlby said.
"It's an opportunity missed and we will need good promotions to carry through July and into August," he said.
Northwest Cherry Grower board members met May 18 in Pasco, Wash.