Getting over the hump
Barring another weather disaster, Pepperl was optimistic that this year’s California crop could come in at somewhere around 10 million to 12 million boxes.
Once growers get over the hump of the slow start in the south, Pepperl said, there is “potential for big numbers” come mid-May. Stemilt is projecting 1.3 million boxes out of California this year.
But cherries are getting increasingly costly to grow and ship, he said, based on rising fuel prices and labor costs. The retail price will have to average at least $2.99 per pound, he said.
“Below $2.99,” he said, “it’s going to be a loss for the grower.”
During peak demand, such as around Memorial Day, Pepperl said retailers should be able to sell a lot of cherries for $3.99 a pound.
Don Goforth shared Pepperl’s optimism for this season.
Goforth, marketing director for Family Tree Farms, Reedley, Calif., said trees had more than 1,200 chill hours between November and February, up from an average peak of about 900 hours.
The importance of the additional chill hours cannot be overstated, Goforth said. It’s similar to how humans function on 10 hours of sleep versus half that much.
Adequate chill hours, Goforth said, generally mean that trees will be “more prolific, they will produce more fruit; they will produce better fruit, sweeter fruit, and fruit that has a better shelf life.”