( File photo )

The first industry estimate of Northwest cherries puts the crop at 22.6 million 20-pound cartons, down double digits from a year ago.

The 2018 estimate is off 15% from the 2017 fresh packout of 26.5 million cartons, according to the Yakima-based Northwest Cherry Growers.

“The 2018 crop on the trees gives every indication of a fantastic season to come for growers and retailers alike,” according to a May 10 news release.

The group enlisted 22 people for the estimate, using field assessments, historical data, growing degree day patterns, crop expansion and average processing tonnage to formulate a crop projection, according to a news release.

The group said Northwest cherries will have a strong June start, with expectations of some early fruit during the first week of June with chelan volume ramping up during the second week. Significant Northwest cherry volumes will be available to retailers for June ads, according to the estimate, especially the June 27th break prior to the July 4 holiday.

Details from the crop estimate include:

  • June Northwest cherry shipments of 8.2 million cartons, compared with 7.7 million boxes in 2017;
  • July shipments of 12.4 million cartons, down from 15 million cartons last year; 
  • August shipments of 2 million cartons, down from 3.8 million cartons from August 2017.
  • Good promotion opportunities for rainier cherries for National Rainier Cherry Day on July 11 and beyond, with a strong crop of 2 million (15-pound) boxes of Northwest rainiers projected.

China concern persists

B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, said May 10 there is continuing concern that the China market may be compromised by increased tariffs and delays in fruit inspections this season.

Test shipments of California cherries to China in early May failed to clear customs after a week, industry sources in California said.

China purchased about 3 million boxes of Northwest cherries in 2017, or about 13% of total Northwest cherry shipments last year.

Thurlby said Northwest cherry exporters hoping the U.S. and China resolve the trade dispute by July, but that expectation is far from certain. 

Because both the California and Northwest crops are down compared with a year ago — perhaps by a collective 8 to 10 million cartons — the potential loss of demand from China could be absorbed more easily by domestic demand and other export markets.

“The real hope is that by the time we get to July, there will be a resolution,” Thurlby said May 10.