NW cherry industry eyes record yearThe Northwest cherry industry has record volumes in its sights.

As of Aug. 18, shippers were on pace to ship 23.4 million boxes of fruit, which would break the 2012 record of 23.1 million cartons, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Wenatchee, Wash.-based Northwest Cherry Growers.

“Right now, it looks like a record,” Thurlby said.

The revised estimate is up from pre-season estimates of more than 22 million boxes, Thurlby said.

A surge in the second half of the season helped get the Northwest into record territory, said Eric Patrick, Yakima, Wash.-based director of marketing for Grant J. Hunt Co., Oakland, Calif.

“There was more late-season fruit that had been calculated,” Patrick said.

Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, Wash., will set a volume record this season or at least come close, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.

“It’s right up there — one of the better ones in history.”

Stemilt stopped packing the week of Aug. 18, earlier than its usual early September end, Pepperl said. The company likes to go into September, but ending early has its advantages this season.

“It’s a mixed blessing. Our apples are early, so we have plenty to do.”

Shipments would likely wind down by the end of August, slightly earlier than normal, Patrick said.

“We started five days to a week early, and everything has followed suit.”

The hottest July in Washington since the 1980s hastened the end of this year’s season, Thurlby said.

Weekly volumes have been plentiful all season, but demand has stayed strong throughout, Patrick said.

“Even though it’s a record crop, we’ve had great movement.”

Quality has had a lot to do with that, Patrick said.

“We’ve had great quality from Day 1. The market never got flooded with bad product, and consumers kept coming back all season long. It’s been one of the more consistent, clean crops I can remember.”

Thurlby agreed.

“The packouts have been higher, and we’ve had excellent quality throughout. The feedback from the trade has been off the charts.”

As has the consumer feedback, Pepperl said.

“As an industry, sometimes we forget who really pays the bills. The big thing we experienced this year was consumer demand. When you have good quality, people respond.”

An early start to the season helped shippers take full advantage of 4th of July pull, which helped set the tone for the whole season, Thurlby said.

“We were cranked up hard by June 15, and we had a big July. The fruit moved through the market so quickly.”