Cherry crop

Cherry fruitlets begin to form April 26 beneath blossoms in the “blossom shuck” stage of cherry development in an East Wenatchee, Wash., orchard. It could be a large crop this year in the Northwest and California.

California and Northwest cherries will be late this year but there may be ample volume.

Harvest of just a very few Royal Tioga cherries began April 24 in the Fresno-Sanger-Hanford district of California. Harvest of the Brooks variety will begin about April 30, 10 days later than last year, at Arvin south of Bakersfield.

“This year looks to be one of our best. Very good volume. Probably around 10 million (18-pound boxes),” said Mike Jameson, director of sales and marketing at Morada Produce in Linden, one of state’s largest packer-shippers.

In 2018, California picked just 3.9 million boxes, down because of insufficient winter chill, spring frost damage and poor pollination.

But the state set a record of 9.6 million boxes in 2017, averaging $55 per box wholesale because of good quality and limited competition, according to Jameson.

The industry hopes to repeat that this year.

Major rain damage is always a concern, but Jameson said the weather has been good and the forecast looks good.

Meanwhile, in Washington, cherry trees finished blooming from Interstate 90 southward and north along the Columbia River to Canada. Elevations of 1,400 feet and above are yet to bloom, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima.

“Orchards bloomed hard for two days and then flower pedals fell off. Usually bloom lasts two weeks. No one is sure what to make of that. It doesn’t necessarily mean we haven’t set a good crop. Weather has been so good. You only need two hours for bees to set a good crop,” Thurlby said.

The Northwest, predominately Washington, harvested 25.3 million 20-pound boxes of cherries last year and a record 26.4 million boxes in 2017.

It’s too early to predict this year’s volume, but Northwest Cherry Growers, the industry promotional arm, has budgeted for a 24-million-box crop.

A cold February and early March has caused the crop to be late. Harvest is not expected to start until about June 14 in Mattawa and Pasco, Thurlby said. That’s about 10 days late.

“Two out of the last three years, we’ve been 10 million boxes in June. This year it will be more like 4 to 5 million,” he said.

But California being large and late should, with Washington, provide 10 million boxes in June and build momentum for Washington’s supply for Fourth of July sales, he said.

“They (California) should peak on Bing from Lodi and Stockton about June 8 and 9,” he said. “They will get shelf space established for us for the Fourth. Their volume should keep their pricing more in line with what we need to move fruit.”

As always, higher Northwest volume in July will be a challenge and August volume should increase to 5 million boxes this year, he said.

A concern is loss of market in China due to a 50% tariff. The Northwest sold 3 million boxes of cherries to China in 2017 but only 1.4 million boxes in 2018 because of the tariff.

“A good year there this year might be 1 million,” Thurlby said. “Our international program director, Keith Hu, just got back from China and said importers are ready to buy.”

Thurlby said he’s hoping U.S.-China trade negotiations will resolve the tariff before the season starts.

Canada, at 2.5 million to 3 million boxes annually, is the other large export market for the Northwest. South Korea and Taiwan follow.

Jameson said California ships more cherries to South Korea and Japan than China.

Washington produced 261,600 tons of sweet cherries valued at $474 million in 2017, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That was 60% of the national crop. California was second with 95,000 tons valued at $330 million. Oregon was third with 55,400 tons valued at $70 million.

Central Washington field reporter

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