Cherries to Vietnam

Retailers and importers from Vietnam see early variety cherries at Zirkle Fruit Co., Selah, Wash., on June 10. 

YAKIMA, Wash. — Cherry harvest is underway in Washington state with what growers think could be a stellar year as California winds down a disappointing season marred by rain, wind and heat.

California's harvest always precedes the larger Northwest season.

Early on, the California Cherry Advisory Board, in Sacramento, forecast a crop of 10 million, 18-pound boxes and many expected a record 14 million, said Chris Zanobini, the board's executive director.

“Growing weather was optimum and the fruit was sizing significantly before the rain,” Zanobini said.

More than 3 inches of rain fell from May 18 to 21.

“We feel we lost at least 60% of the crop in 48 hours. Reports from the field were showing damage averaging around 75%. There will be significant insurance claims for many growers,” he said.

Growers struggled with wind on June 8 and then heat and had shipped 5.1 million boxes for the season by June 12 with just a few days of harvest left, Zanobini said, adding that the final tally might end up close to 5.5 million boxes.

Meanwhile, Washington’s harvest started June 6, about five days ahead of what had been predicted earlier.

“Everybody is into Chelans and Early Robins. Santina look gorgeous and probably will start Friday,” B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, in Yakima, said June 12.

Early varieties were being picked in the Tri-Cities, Wapato, Mattawa and along the Columbia River to Wenatchee with volume still light at 305,000, 20-pound boxes shipped, he said.

Slightly fewer than 23 million boxes are expected, with the bulk being in June and July and ending in mid-August. Most cherries are from Washington but they also come from Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah.

Demand is high because of California’s smaller volume. Northwest volume should be really good heading into Fourth of July sales, Thurlby said.

Some areas have light fruit set but that makes for larger, premium quality cherries, he said. Overall yields are running 4 to 5 tons per acre with some Canadian varieties at 8 to 9 tons instead of a more normal 11 to 12, he said.

“We’re excited about the size and quality of our crop this year. Retailers and consumers will appreciate the good color, larger size and firmness of our Chelan Fresh cherries,” said Tim Evans, sales director at Chelan Fresh Marketing.

Early export prices are reaching $80 per box, sources said.

Two large retailers and six importers from Vietnam toured orchards and packing houses in Yakima and Wenatchee with Thurlby from June 8 to 12. They talked with sales reps and were ready to buy, Thurlby said.

“They’re a premium market and want only 9-row (very large cherries). Chelans are beautiful this year but never in Chelans do you have an abundance of 9-row,” he said.

With sunny skies forecast, growers are hoping to avoid rain. Compression of supply after the Fourth of July always is a concern.

Central Washington field reporter

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