YAKIMA, Wash. — Big volume and big demand should characterize the 2014 Northwest cherry crop.
Northwest growers expect the cherry harvest to begin in early June, with promotable volume by late June and big shipments for the Fourth of July holiday through most of July.
Several shippers reported investments in new optical sorting lines that promise to deliver better consistency, size and quality, and nearly all report continued movement toward the high graphic pouch bag.
Output is expected to far exceed the 14.3 million boxes shipped in 2013 — when rains hampered production — and perhaps rival the 2012 record of 23 million boxes.
Early estimates put the crop at 20 million to 21 million boxes, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers.
Northwest cherry marketers could ship 7 million boxes in June, 12 million to 13 million boxes in July and up to 3 million boxes in August, he said.
“So far, so good — as long as Mother Nature decides to stay away from heavy rains in June and July, we are headed for a great year,” said Scott Marboe, director of marketing for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee.
“It could be the biggest crop in history, which would be great: lots of cherries for lots of happy consumers,” he said.
Early growing areas had a little bit of frost, but the middle of the season crop had very good pollination conditions, said Tim Smith, Washington State University extension agent.
He said tree fruit experienced a great winter with sufficient chilling hours and the crop is projected to be earlier to market than the past four or five years. Water for irrigation also is plentiful, Thurlby said.
“We’ve had really good weather, lots of bees flying and blooms opening in a uniform manner throughout the districts,” said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Domex Superfresh Growers.
From the beginning of harvest, there should be fruit size to address all customers’ needs, said Keith Mathews, chief executive officer of FirstFruits Marketing of Washington LLC.
The short California crop will set the stage for a terrific start to the Northwest cherry season, said Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for Columbia Marketing International, Wenatchee.
With the start of Washington cherry volume, consumers will have their first real opportunity to purchase cherries at a competitive price.
The average f.o.b. price for Washington cherries in 2013, for all varieties and packs, was $38.02 per box, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.