( Courtesy California Cherry Commission )

Harvest is just starting for what is expected to be a big and promotable crop of California cherries.

The general industry consensus is for a crop in the 10- to 11-million box range, said Maurice Cameron, sales director for The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC, Hanford, Calif.

If those expectations are met, the crop would set a record.

The Sacramento-based California Cherry Board said 2018 cherry volume statewide was 3.96 million cartons, down from the record crop of 9.56 million cartons in 2017.

Francisco Ilic, export manager at Dinuba, Calif.-based King Fresh Produce LLC, said the winter brought enough chill hours for early varieties grown at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley — varieties such as royal tioga, brooks, tulare and coral.

“It should be a record crop — the crop potential is there,” said Kyle Persky, sales manager with Lodi, Calif.-based Rivermaid Trading Co. He said April 24 that the industry expects better volume of coral champagne and tulare varieties on the front half of the deal.

Cameron said harvest for Flavor Tree began April 19 and will increase until the May 15-22 peak volume. That will be just in time for the big demand pull for Memorial Day ads, he said.

“We will actually peak as a company at that Memorial Day pull and we couldn’t ask for better timing,” he said.

Export markets are absorbing most of the early supply of California fruit, but there should be strong retail ad opportunities this year.

“There’s is going to be huge promotional opportunities for domestic marketing,” Cameron said. “Cherries are going to be plentiful from the middle of May all the way through the second week of June from California.”

Persky agreed there should be good volume of all sizes of California cherries from mid-May to mid-June. 
“Major retailers have lined up very aggressive promotion plans,” he said.

Sizing normally peaks on 10-row cherries, but this year sizing could average 10.5- or 11-row size. That could create good opportunities for discounters to promote 11.5- to 12-row size fruit, he said. 

Cameron said Flavor Tree starts with proprietary varieties out of the southern San Joaquin Valley April 25, with quality expected to be excellent with large sizes and deep red color.

Almost all cherry varieties have a good set this year, he said, That could lead to smaller fruit size for some varieties with a heavy set of fruit, particularly in the Hanford, Calif., area.

“We have a proprietary variety that’s fairly new to us called and ArvinGlen and the sizing is magnificent,” he said.

The company’s proprietary Sequoia breeding program will provide ample supplies of GlenHeart and ArvinGlen cherries, which Cameron described as are big, dark, early-season cherries. 

“Generally about half of what we do is in exclusive proprietary varieties and Sequoia is the most famous of that group and the biggest volume (variety) that we have,” he said.

Flavor Tree is expected to pack about 700,000 cartons of cherries this year, of which about 10% will be organic.

Flavor Tree accounted for the majority of California’s organic cherries last year and another good year is expected, Cameron said.

Domestic demand or organic cherries has been exceptional, he said, with high retail interest.

“It’s not just organic retailers, it is all the club stores to the major retailers to the major supermarkets — they all want organic cherries,” he said.

Export markets can take up to a third or more of California cherry shipments, and Cameron said a bigger crop is building expectations in global markets.