California grower-shippers expect promotable supplies of high-quality cherries in May and June.

While it was still early in the season to be making definitive predictions, in early April, 2010 was shaping up to be a banner year for the California cherry industry, said Steve Nelsen, managing partner of Kingsburg, Calif.-based Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co.

“We have an opportunity to have one of the better crops we’ve had in a long time in terms of quality and volume,” Nelsen said. “I hope I don’t jinx us by saying that. We still have a long way to go.”

Temperatures in the low 30s at the beginning of April illus-trated that point, though no damage was reported from that cold snap, Nelsen said.

Maurice Cameron, president of Hanford, Calif.-based Flavor Tree Fruit Co., which markets fruit for Hanford-based Warmerdam Packing LLC, is similarly optimistic.

“The crop is looking beautiful,” he said. “It’s setting up to be a real nice year.”

Flavor Tree expects to begin shipping its patented Sequoia variety from Arvin and Maricopa the last week in April, with brookses following shortly thereafter, Cameron said.
Valhalla would possibly start shipping in the last week of April, and certainly by the first week in May, Nelsen said. The company expected to ship California product through about mid-June.

For its first year as a full-time shipper out of California, Fridley, Minn.-based Roland Marketing, which markets cherries under the Green Giant label, is looking forward to a good one, said Joan Tabak, Roland’s sales manager.

“It looks like a very good crop,” she said. “We’ve seen good quality so far. Mother Nature is working well for us.”

Rains earlier in the growing season did not affect the cherry crop adversely, she said.

Dave Parker, marketing di-rector for Traver, Calif.-based Scattaglia Growers & Shippers LLC, also reported favorable growing weather, with good conditions during bloom and ample chill hours over the winter.

A combination of good weather, new acreage and newer trees maturing should equate to a large crop, he said.

Scattaglia expects to begin picking the last few days of April, with volume shipments beginning about a week later and full production slated for about May 12, Parker said.

The company will begin shipping in the southern San Joaquin Valley, near Arvin, switch to the central valley region around Hanford later in the deal, then finish up in the Stockton/Lodi area, Parker said.

Roland expects to start ship-ping about April 20-22, a bit earlier than last year, with a full lineup of bings, brooks, tulares and other dark cherry varieties as well as a small amount of rainiers, Tabak said.

Volume shipments should begin in the first week of May, she said. Because of those rains, production is expected to lull slightly the third week in May, but not enough to have much of an effect on markets, Tabak said.

The Green Giant deal will begin in Arvin, then shift to Stockton later in the season, she said.

Tabak reported very good quality, with very few “doubles” — two cherries on one stem. And while it was too early to tell for sure, she said in late March that growers expected good size profile.

Initial reports suggested an early start to the deal, but in early April, Stockton, Calif.-based Grower Direct Marketing LLC was forecasting a more typical April 20-25 start to the deal, with volumes following the first week in May, said Jimmy Williams, the company’s domestic and export sales manager.

Williams expected a produc-tion boost compared to the company’s 2009 cherry crop.

“So far, we’ve had pretty good weather in Arvin,” he said. “The overall size should be similar to two years ago — not a limb-buster by any means, but a little heavier set than last year.”

Cold weather the week of March 29 could set back the Stockton/Lodi deal back a bit, Williams said. Instead of peak-ing in late May, the region could see its peak fall in early June, he said.

“Traditionally people want to (peak) for Memorial Day,” he said. “There will certainly be some volume this year, but there will be more the first week of June.”

Initially, there were concerns about an overlap with Washing-ton because of California’s slightly later peak and reports of an early Washington crop, Williams said.

But Washington also was getting cold weather in late March and early April, possibly pushing its deal back as well, he said.

Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc., said even if there is a significant overlap between California and Washington, it won’t likely have a negative effect on shippers from either state.

That’s because early fruit from Washington will likely be on the large side, complementing smaller fruit from Califor-nia, he said.

Stemilt expects to begin its California deal in a light way at the end of April and wind down by mid-June, Pepperl said.

“It looks like a good season,” he said. “The majority of the crop will be retailed in June, but there will be a lot of fruit in May to sell, too.”

Quality was expected to be good, though Pepperl said fruit from some California shippers could be on the small side.