Andy Nelson, Markets Editor
Andy Nelson, Markets Editor

There are compliments, and then there are compliments. I give B.J. Thurlby props for coming up with a memorable one to describe the 2014 Northwest cherry crop.

“The fruit had great legs this year.”

Washington and Oregon shippers packed out a record-sized crop this year, and those “great legs” — i.e., long shelf life — meant export markets generated plenty of demand to help meet it, said Thurlby, president of Yakima, Wash.-based Northwest Cherry Growers.

“Pricing was reasonably aggressive, and the movement was great,” Thurlby said. “You don’t get to see a cherry deal move this smoothly very often. The feedback from the trade has been off-the-charts positive.”

Because fruit shipped so far so well this summer, Northwest export volumes topped 1 million boxes to three countries for the first time, Thurlby said.

Industry No. 1 export target Canada of course had no trouble cracking seven figures, and runner-up China “really came on strong” in 2014, he said.

But the big surprise was No. 3 South Korea, which took 1.2 million boxes of Northwest fruit.

“The crown jewel as far as more volume than we ever hoped for was South Korea,” Thurlby said. “South Korea only has 48 million people. It’s not like China.”

Outstanding quality, the aforementioned legs and strong promotional support from start to finish helped get South Korea over the 1 million mark.

Even with the success of the 2014 export season, Thurlby is looking for more in 2015.

“It was a down year in Australia. We’re expecting them to bounce back.”

About 300,000 boxes were shipped Down Under in 2014. That could easily rise to half-a-million next season, Thurlby said.

One irony about the record 2014 Northwest cherry season is how it easily could have been just the opposite — a disaster.

“Normally when it’s super hot, like it was this summer, it’s the kiss of death,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers.

So what kept the cherries from burning up?

In another irony, Pepperl said, it was the very thing that caused so many Washingtonians such headaches, and worse, this summer: forest fires.

The fires that made worldwide headlines early in the season never had much of a chance of hurting cherry and other fruit trees: growers keep them too well watered.

What they did do, however, was fill the sky with smoke, which blocked out the sun, saving trees from the scorching rays, Pepperl said. Some days, hazy and 95 felt cooler than sunny and 80.

“For three weeks, there wasn’t a lot of sunshine.”

Smoky skies, great legs, awesome cherry crop — an interesting summer, to say the least.

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