The California cherry crop is down but far from out.
Most shippers believe the California cherry crop will fall between 4.5 million and 7 million cartons, down from more than 9 million cartons in 2017.
“People are talking between 6 and 7 million cartons this year,” said Keith Wilson, owner of Dinuba, Calif.-based King Fresh Produce. He said the cherry harvest was running about a week behind last season.
The California cherry crop may range as low as 4.5 million to 5 million cartons, said David Nelley, vice president of apples, pears, cherries and global exports for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.
Late California cherry districts are expected to show average to above average yields but the overall crop volume won’t match 2017, according to Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers, marketers of cherries from Chinchiolo Stemilt California.
The coral cherry variety is accounting for a bigger share of California cherry production, which may help overall crop prospects, said Mike Collins, salesman in Stemilt Growers’ office in Stockton.
The variety, grown in every region, does better with subpar chill and bloom conditions than some of its rivals, Collins said.
The five-year average for California cherry production is 6.7 million pounds, said Rich Sambado, sales manager for Primavera Marketing Inc., Linden, Calif.
That includes last year’s record output of 9.6 million cartons.
“It’s hard to hit two grand slams in a row, so 2018 likely will be less, he said.
With warm winter weather, a late February frost and March rain, even new acreage of coral cherries won’t offset reduced crop prospects, he said.
Estimates range from 5 million to 7.5 million cartons, and Sambado said this year’s crop could be close to the five-year average, or about one third less than 2017.
Early season fruit will begin in late April, with the peak of the early varieties anticipated from May 8 to May 20 and good supply from the later districts in late May and early June.
“It is not the record crop we had last year, but we are looking at good, consistent supplies,” said Matt Nowak, domestic and export account manager for Grower Direct Marketing LLC, Stockton, Calif.
Nowak said Tulare variety cherries were hit worst from a freeze in March, while the coral crop looks good.
“Late bings are probably the highlight of the season,” he said.
Expectations are that finding labor won’t be too much of a problem this year, Nowak said.
With volume of San Joaquin Valley peaches, plums and nectarines cut by a frost in late February, Nowak said that may relieve pressure on harvest labor for cherries.
First fruit may sell for more than $100 per carton, but markets will fall back when volume increases, shippers said.
In 2017, the USDA reported shipping point prices for size 10.5 row red cherries from the San Joaquin Valley traded in an average range of $46.50-51 per carton from mid-May through June 17.
“It looks like it is definitely going to be lighter than last year,” said Mike Jameson, director of sales and marketing for Linden, Calif.-based Morada Produce.
Lighter early season output may bring down output to about 6.5 million cartons this year, he said.
Jameson said bing variety cherries may start about May 22, with the peak bing volume the last week of May and the first eight days of June.
“Frenso south seems to be a little lighter, but it is still a little bit too early to tell on the bings you have stuff that is blooming,” he said.
The Patterson district, which is just a little southwest of Stockton, seems to have a strong crop, he said.
Between the early varieties of brooks, Tulare and coral, Jameson said corals appear to have set a better crop this year.
Jameson said Morada Produce expects its California cherry harvest will wind down in the coastal district of Hollister and Gilroy by about June 15.
Northwest cherry volume could start June 8, Jameson said, so there could be a slight overlap between the two districts in mid-June.
Wilson of King Fresh said fruit size could be similar to last year, when the company peaked on 10 row size cherries.