Record harvest forecast
Bloom spread should make packing, processing easier to manage
By DAN WHEAT
RICHLAND, Wash. -- The Pacific Northwest is staring at a possible 20.3-million-box cherry crop. The last time it had a crop in that range -- the record was 20.4 million boxes in 2009 -- the train came off the tracks.
About 18 million boxes were picked in 45 days in 2009, clogging packing plants, causing prices to drop and resulting in some picked cherries being dumped and others left on trees.
This year, bloom indicates a better harvest spread, which will be easier to manage, B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima, said after 100 growers from five states met May 16 in Richland.
The growers -- from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah -- adjusted Thurlby's initial May 7 estimate of 20.9 million, 20-pound boxes, down to 20.3 million.
The estimate could decline more from normal fruit drop as temperatures increase.
Last year's crop was the second largest on record at 18.4 million boxes. It was also the latest with final shipments on Sept. 14. Prices stayed strong, averaging $43.52 per box for all varieties for Washington.
"The feeling is Bings are a little lighter than last year but the self-fertilizing varieties, Skeena and Sweetheart, look like nice crops," Thurlby said.
Harvest is expected to start June 8 or 9 in Washington's Tri-Cities and Mattawa. Growers expect 4 million to 5 million boxes harvested in June, 12 million in July and 4 million to 5 million in August, Thurlby said.
His May 7 estimate was based on reports from 18 fieldmen representing 80 percent of anticipated tonnage.
As of May 15, high-elevation cherries were still blooming while lowland cherry fruitlets were beginning to gain size. An 80- to 85-day harvest spread is needed to get the crop sold, he said.
There are a lot of three- and four-cherry clusters with clusters spread well throughout trees which leads to good size and quality, Thurlby said.
"Growers say we may have a lot of larger cherries with high sugars like in 2007 which was a standout year of high quality in sugar, firmness and size," he said.
Traditionally, the Fourth of July is a key sales time. Only 1.8 million boxes were shipped before July 4 last year. The crop was delayed by a cool, wet spring. Some 5 million to 6 million boxes before the Fourth of July once was the norm.