Cold, wet spring may hamper Fourth of July cherry sales
By MITCH LIES
ALBANY, Ore. -- Cherry grower Ken Bailey of Orchard View Farms in The Dalles, Ore., typically is gearing up for harvest as May winds to a close.
Not this year.
"We're about as late as I've ever seen," Bailey said May 23. "Some of our late varieties are just past bloom."
Bailey said cherries are about two weeks behind normal.
"We've had two or three cold springs in the last five years," Bailey said. "I'm not sure what normal is any more."
Traditionally, Bailey said, the farm starts picking the early maturing Chelan variety around June 10.
On Doug Krahmer's blueberry farm near Albany, bees were still at work on May 19.
"Typically, this time of year the bloom is over and the beekeeper is taking the bees out," Krahmer said.
Krahmer said he's about 10 days behind normal.
Strawberries as of May 19 in the northern Willamette Valley also were still in bloom.
Roy Malensky, owner of Oregon Berry Packing Co. in Hillsboro, said his growers typically are picking the early-maturing Totem variety strawberry by June 5.
This year, he's looking at a mid-June start.
Blueberry harvest probably won't start until July 5, about 11 days behind normal, Malensky said.
Oregon's cold, wet spring has set back fruit crops, threatening to prevent cherry growers from entering the traditionally strong Fourth of July market, and pushing back strawberry and blueberry harvests.
The late start typically correlates to a light crop.
"The old rule of thumb is late crop, light crop," Malensky said.
But growers hope that won't be the case this year.
"We can still get a good crop out of the strawberries," Malensky said, "but it will be a shorter picking season.
"Last year we only picked 16 days and it was done, and we started on time.
"My belief is we'll go 16 days again this year," he said.
Strawberry growers typically get three pickings, extending harvest past 20 days.
This year, Malensky expects growers will forego the third picking.
Late crops also can create marketing challenges, Bailey said.
Grocers, for example, may have to scale back in-store promotions for cherries on the Fourth of July, Bailey said.
"Usually we like to have Bings available by the fourth," Bailey said. "This year we'll have some, but the big volume won't hit until after the fourth."
Late harvests in the Northwest also can compress supplies, which can drive down prices. But that doesn't appear to be the case this year: Lateness appears universal on the West Coast.
"Other areas are just as late," Malensky said, "so the gap is still there like normal."
Getting pickers to delay their arrival until crops are ripe, apparently also isn't a problem for established growers.
Pickers know when crops are ripe, Bailey said. And if they have questions, they'll call the farm.
"We're in contact with our pickers," Bailey said. "Typically they show up the day before we start harvest."
Fruit quality this season also isn't a big concern in blueberries and cherries.
"Blueberries look really good," Malensky said. "The bees have been really active in the berries. They've been out there and aggressively pollinating."
In cherries, a late crop can help reduce susceptibility to cracking.
"The later they are actually can be a benefit in that you get away from spring rains that can cause problems with cracking of cherries," Bailey said.