Thanks to near-perfect growing conditions, Northwest cherry shippers are looking forward to a big crop of high-quality fruit.

Between 20 million and 22 million boxes of cherries will ship from the Northwest this season, according to industry estimates. That’s not far below the 23-million-box record reached in 2012.

Northwest production began in earnest late the week of June 2 and will likely start to reach peak volumes by June 14-15, said Bill Knight, domestic sales manager for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Northern Fruit Co.

Eric Patrick, Yakima, Wash.-based director of marketing for Grant J. Hunt Co., Oakland, Calif., agreed that the Northwest deal should be in full swing by mid-June, and said this season is setting up well for promotions.

“July 4 is looking really good,” Patrick said. “This is one of the earliest starts we’ve had in many years.”

Other than a little wind, which could mark up some rainiers, growing conditions as of June 9 had been ideal, Knight said.

“The quality is excellent, temperatures have been great, and we haven’t had any of that wet stuff.”

John Onstad of Yakima-based Sage Fruit Co. agreed.

“We’ve had what I would call a perfect growing season in Washington,” he said. “Quality is outstanding.”

Onstad reported a good mix of sizes on chelans, and he expects big sizes when bings and other varieties start shipping.

Another good thing about the 2014 season thus far has been the crop’s steady, even growth, Knight and Patrick said.

“We’ll have some peaks and lumps, but it should be nice and spread out,” Knight said.

On June 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $30 for 16-pound cartons of bagged 10-row bings from California, down from $50-52 on June 4, 2013.

Overall, demand has been strong, though Northern Fruit did initially think California would be out of the pipeline by early to mid-June.

“You have sort of a mixed bag now,” Knight said. “We expected them to be out totally, but they still have some this week. We had hoped to have to ourselves, but that’s the way it goes.”

Patrick said Washington shippers were greeted with a relatively open pipeline this season.

“(California) had a light crop, so we just jumped in right away,” he said.

Onstad said demand was picking up in early June and markets were beginning to find an equilibrium as California production phased out.

“We think we’ll move the crop through the system at a pretty reasonable clip.”

Grant Hunt’s biggest volume variety the week of June 9 was chelans, Patrick said. They would be followed by bings, rainiers, lapins and sweethearts.

Rainier volumes were expected by the end of the week of June 9, with bing volumes following shortly thereafter, Patrick said.