Despite frost, cherry growers have high expectations

04/24/2009 06:32:54 PM
David Mitchell

A March frost likely will prevent California from matching the record 8.6 million boxes of cherries it produced last year, but grower-shippers remain optimistic they will have good quality and volume.

"The crop will likely result in the 7.5 million to 8.2 million carton count for the state, which remains one of larger crops in history," said Jim Hanson, managing director of Grower Direct Marketing LLC, Stockton, Calif.

The state's southern district is expected to start in late April with early varieties, such as brooks and tulare. George Rossi, director of sales and marketing for Farmington Fresh Sales LLC, Stockton, said he expects that area to peak in volume during the second week in May.

Rich Sambado, sales manager for Primavera Marketing Inc., Stockton, said a March 10 frost affected growers in both the southern and northern districts, but it appeared to be more severe in the south. He said he expects the southern district, which accounts for about one-third of the state's volume, to be down as much as 35% from a year ago when it produced more than 3 million boxes.

"The trees didn't respond as well this year," he said. "Some sets are very nice, and some are quite light. It's all over the board."

Jim Culbertson, executive manager of the California Cherry Advisory Board, Lodi, said the frost was not widespread.

"We expect a good crop," he said. "We've had a little frost here and there, but it hasn't had much of an effect. It's fairly isolated."

In fact, a few companies said they expect a record or near-record year.

"We've had adequate cold hours," said Dave Parker, director of marketing for Scattaglia Growers & Shippers, Traver, Calif. "Conditions going into bloom were terrific. Our volume is going up because of new plantings and new properties."

General manager and sales manager Paul Poutre said Delta Packing Co. of Lodi Inc., Lodi, Calif., expects 700,000 boxes this season, starting April 20 with brooks.

"We should have exceptional quality of California cherries to market this year, along with a 50% increase in volume," he said. "We are putting in 60 to 100 acres a year."

Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc., which entered the California cherry deal in 2003, is expecting its biggest year in the state with more than 1 million boxes forecast.

"We're expecting a good crop," said marketing director Roger Pepperl. "We have good bud sets. It looks like it's going to be the biggest season for Stemilt so far. We've been ramping up. We have a lot of new production coming in."


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