YAKIMA, Wash. — Northwest cherry acreage is trending upward, and variety trends in the mid- and late-season production zones are running toward later yielding varieties.
The most-recent published survey of Washington cherry acreage showed the bing variety accounted for 43% of the state’s 38,115 acres of cherries planted in 2011, compared with 64% in 2001.
On the other hand, the sweetheart variety rose from just 3% of the crop in 2001 to 17% in 2011. Rainiers represented 11% of the crop in 2011, little changed from a decade earlier.
The chelan variety has increased its share of total acreage to 7% in 2011, up from 3% in 2001. Lapins, conversely, have dipped in importance, with a 2011 market share of 5% compared with the 2001 share of 7%.
While overall planting of cherries has slowed down compared with five years ago, growers are continually looking for the right varieties, looking at both yields and consumer favor, said Brian Birdsall, general manager of cherry operations for Sage Fruit Co., Yakima.
While bing cherries are shrinking as a percentage of overall volume, Birdsall said growers in early districts — Tri-Cities, Mattawa, and the lower Yakima Valley — that are renewing their blocks are still planting bings because it is the best variety for their sites.
For growers who do put in bing cherry trees, many are opting for higher density plantings, he said.
Jon Bailey, with The Dalles, Ore.-based Orchard View Farms, whose cherries are marketed by Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, said the bing variety is still planted in Oregon though skeena and sweetheart acreage is increasing at a faster rate.
Growers’ choice of varieties is beginning to be seen in the flow of the deal, said Tim Smith, regional extension tree fruit specialist with Washington State University, Wenatchee.
“We used to have a pretty sharp peak for the Fourth of July, but that peak has become much broader,” Smith said.
“There is plentiful supply of cherries every year in the first three weeks of July and then it drops off,” he said.
Yields of varieties vary, with the bing variety ranging from as little as two tons to as much as 10 tons per acre.
The Canada-developed varieties of lapins and sweethearts tend to be especially productive, with the upper limits of yield restricted by quality more than anything else, he said.
“If you let them produce as they want to, they will produce a huge crop of small fruit,” he said.
Growers prune sweetheart carefully, he said, to try to preserve good fruit size. Sweethearts can produce as much as 15-18 tons per acre, while good yields for bings are 7-10 tons per acre.
Pruning is essential to preserve size and even taste for some of the high yielding varieties, said Bob Mast, president of Columbia Marketing International LLC, Wenatchee.
Rainiers have to grow in orchards where fruit is protected from the wind.
“If the wind blows too much, they bruise up on the tree,” Smith said.
Birdsall said some of the better yielding varieties are lapins and sweethearts, while bings and reginas yield less.