The start of the Pacific Northwest cherry season last season was so late that most grower-shippers missed the lucrative July Fourth holiday, and that’s a milestone that industry officials say they hope isn’t soon repeated.
Whether the industry gets its wish for an earlier start this season will depend on weather between bloom and harvest.
“Last year we missed anybody east of the Rockies, so we should have promotable volume for the Fourth this year — that’s our plan,” said Suzanne Wolter, marketing director for Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co.
The 2012 season appears a bit earlier in some production areas, although Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, Wash., said he doesn’t expect harvest to begin until June 12 — about seven days later than normal.
If the first bing doesn’t come off until about June 25, he said marketers may be hard pressed to make a June 27 ad ahead of the July Fourth holiday.
Nevertheless, he said Stemilt should have plenty of the earlier chelans, beginning about June 20.
Barring any bad weather, such as frost, hail or untimely rains between now and harvest, Pepperl said the industry has the potential to produce a record 22 million 20-
pound box equivalents this season.
Based on increased acreage, production could range between 18 million and 24 million boxes.
“If it goes the way it should, we should have a record crop we’re going to have to market,” he said.
That compares to the compressed 2011 season, where the industry moved about 18.3 million boxes, the second largest crop on record, according to the Yakima, Wash.-based trade group Northwest Cherry Growers.
Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, said all indications point to near-normal timing for the start of the dark sweet cherry harvest and strong volumes of large fruit.
Superfresh Growers’ volume also will be enhanced by newer orchards of dark sweet and Rainier cherries coming into production, he said.
“It’s manageable growth, but it’s definitely a strong growth pattern,” Queen said. “There’s more consumer demand, not just from here but around the world.”
Early fruit should begin June 7-10, with promotable volumes by June 15, he said.
Barring changes in weather, Scott Marboe, marketing director for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, said he anticipates harvest to start toward the end of the week of June 10.