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Wenatchee cherries dodge rain 'bullet'

Prices remain high despite late harvest of Northwest crop


Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Rain showers July 16 and 17 caused only minimal damage to cherries still on trees in the greater Wenatchee area.

Helicopters and empty ground sprayers were used to dry cherries and temperatures remained low enough afterward to prevent massive splitting, growers said.

However, there was some splitting with perhaps 5 to 10 percent crop loss on Wenatchee Heights and Stemilt Hill, said growers Joseph Wiggs and Kyle Mathison.

"We dodged a bullet. It never did heat up after the rain and there was no sustained rain," said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.

Mathison said helicopter downdrafts dried his cherries four times on July 16. He had just begun harvest and estimated damage at under 10 percent.

Wiggs estimated his loss at 5 percent, and said his Skeena and Selah cherries won't be ripe enough to pick for two weeks.

Randy Smith, a Cashmere grower, said he just finished Bing harvest before a downpour and had minimal damage to the Rainier cherries he was just starting to pick.

Damage throughout the Wenatchee Valley was light, said Andy Gale, general manager of Stemilt AgServices. There will be a slight increase in cullage but the ratio of packout versus cullage has been excellent and will remain good, he said.

Staff reports from Quincy, Royal City, Othello and Yakima showed no rain or damage, Gale said. It rained north of Wenatchee and into the Okanogan, but cherries, less mature there, should be OK, he said.

About 7 million, 20-pound boxes of Pacific Northwest cherries had been shipped as of July 14, compared with 5 million on the same date a year earlier, Kelly said. While only 1.8 million boxes versus a normal 6 million boxes were shipped in time for Fourth of July sales, movement doubled between July 1 and 7, he said.

The harvest halfway point was to be reached by about July 22 with the total crop still expected to be in the 16 million- to 17 million-box range, Kelly said.

Fruit size is good with more than 50 percent of the crop at 10.5-row and larger and 69 percent at 11-row and larger, he said.

Prices are dropping but should remain close to $40 per box through the season, Kelly said. The average price was $50.26 per box on July 9, compared with $39.35 a year ago and $30.48 two years ago, he said.

This year's price is remaining higher longer because of the lateness of the crop, he said.

There are still cherries to be picked in all five Northwest states, but in Washington the Tri-Cities and Mattawa are basically finished, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima. Cherries remain in the Lower Yakima Valley, Naches and Tieton and the upper elevations of Wenatchee to the north are just getting started, he said.

Significant volume of up to 200,000 boxes a day will be shipped through Aug. 20, and mid-August shipments will make the Sept. 12 Moon Festival in China -- something that seldom happens, Thurlby said. It will be a good export opportunity, he said.


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