A light set of cherries in an East Wenatchee, Wash., orchard on May 19. They are far from ripe, but harvest may start farther south in the state about May 28.

West Coast sweet cherry crops appear light this year, with California halfway through harvest and Washington about to start.

California began picking April 25 and had packed and shipped 3.4 million, 18-pound boxes as of May 19 of an estimated total crop of 6 million boxes, said Chris Zanobini, executive director of the California Cherry Advisory Board in Sacramento.

California anticipated a 10 million-box crop last year but ended up with slightly over 5 million after rain destroyed half. The record is 9.6 million boxes in 2017. The average of the last 10 years is 7.1 million.

“We’re doing great. There’s been no significant rain damage that I know of and prices are good and demand is steady,” Zanobini said.

Export demand is good but the percentage of exports is down due to less available air freight, he said.

That’s apparently due to economic fallout from COVID-19.

Harvest will finish about mid-June in the Hollister and Gilroy areas.

Northwest Cherry Growers, in Yakima, Wash., is forecasting a 20.2-million, 20-pound-box Northwest crop, down from 23.3 million boxes last year and the record 26.4 million boxes in 2017. The 10-year average is 22.8 million boxes.

Washington typically accounts for 85% of the five-state crop that includes Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah.

Harvest usually begins about June 7 near Mattawa or Pasco, Wash., but will be early this year, on about May 28.

“A generally warm January and February gave our crop one of the earliest starts, but since then relatively cool weather has tempered progression,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers.

Crop size was held down by spring frost and cool pollination weather.

The crop is “spotty” throughout the Yakima Valley with the northern half lighter than the southern half, said Rob Valicoff, president of Valicoff Fruit Co. in Wapato.

Valicoff grows a lot of apricots and said they will be 25% to 30% of normal due to cool weather and poor pollination.

He said Little Cherry Disease continues to spread in the valley. It has caused him to remove 35 acres of cherry trees and to pull his remaining 15 acres after this year’s harvest.

The disease, which renders cherries bitter tasting and useless, has not impacted crop volume much yet, but the industry is concerned it could and is researching ways to combat it. So far, orchard removal and soil fumigation is the only remedy.

The warm winter followed by a cool spring also is expected to cause a greater harvest spread from south to north and from lower- to higher-elevation orchards, Thurlby said. That could be good for retail sales since data shows “massive leaps and shifts in how consumers are doing their shopping” due to COVID-19, he said.

On April 27, Keith Hu, vice president of international business development at Northwest Cherry Growers, said despite COVID-19 he expects good exports to China, Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam, where retailers will be “keen” for Northwest cherries to offset earlier lost revenues.

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