Calif. cherries

California cherries at an East Wenatchee, Wash., Safeway market on May 15. These cherries were harvested before rains that may have claimed 30 to 40% of the California crop.

STOCKTON, Calif. — California’s cherry crop has been significantly damaged by rain, shortening supplies for upcoming Memorial Day sales.

The crop was originally estimated at 10 million, 18-pound boxes with many in the industry expecting it could reach 12 million boxes.

“I’m still optimistic we will come out with 6 to 7 million after the rain finishes,” said Don Walters, domestic sales agent for Grower Direct Marketing in Stockton.

Late spring storms brought snow to the Sierra Nevada and up to 3 and 4 inches of rain north of Sacramento last week. The Stockton area received 1.5 to 2 inches, and there were lesser amounts farther south. More rain was expected May 21, mostly north of Fresno.

“Our official estimate was 10 million boxes but everyone felt there was more than that on the trees. I don’t think anyone has any real concept of the true impact of the rain on the remaining crop,” said Chris Zanobini, executive director of the California Cherry Advisory Board in Sacramento.

The rain damage means there will be less fruit for big Memorial Day sales than originally anticipated, Walters said. That means spot market prices will go up and contracts for sale-price fruit may not be fully met.

“We’re doing what we can to meet those obligations,” he said. “If a guy orders five loads he might only get three because we don’t have the volume.”

Growers reported losses that varied from nothing to 50% on some trees, he said. Weather after the rain was cool and breezy, which helped minimize damage, he said.

Cherries absorb water from rain and warm weather immediately afterward causes them to expand and split, rendering them useless for fresh market.

Most damage was to the early Tulare and Brooks varieties in all growing regions, Walters said.

The Bing crop east of Stockton was still green enough to escape damage and should be a good crop the second week of June, he said.

“Bakersfield is 60 to 70% harvested. It got less rain. Our field department is saying there’s still some nice fruit down there,” Walters said.

Harvest of just a few Royal Tioga began April 24 in the Fresno-Sanger-Hanford district. As of May 20, 2.3 million boxes had been shipped. Harvest may go through June 18 overlapping slightly with the start of Washington’s harvest.

California rain damage shouldn’t have any effect on the Washington crop, said Tim Evans, general sales manager of Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan, Wash.

“We will have a lot of June volume. From the 20th to the end will be big, which will set us up ideally for Fourth of July sales. We will have solid promotional volume in June and July,” Evans said. Compression of harvest is a concern, he said.

The Pacific Northwest crop, predominantly Washington, will start harvest about June 10 and was initially forecast at 24.9 million, 20-pound boxes. It’s now estimated at 23.6 million but may go to 22 million as Sweetheart fruit set is lighter than first thought, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima.

Washington has had perfect cherry weather so far, with a gradual warmup, Thurlby said. A smaller California crop could help front-end Washington sales, he said.

Central Washington field reporter

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