( Courtesy Northwest Cherry Growers )

Northwest cherry grower-shippers are expecting to have plenty of product for their June-August market window this year.

An “extended winter” may cause a later-than-normal start — perhaps one or two weeks behind last year, suppliers say.

It works out this year, though, since California’s crop was running slightly late, they said.

“Similar to the California crop, the big weather news in Washington is that spring came late,” said Brianna Shales, communications manager with Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers LLC. 

“We are running 10 days behind last year’s start times, with a harvest start predicted for mid-June in Washington.”

Of course, that can change if weather warms or cools quickly, she and others said.

“Still a way to go and things can always change, but I would anticipate somewhere in the range of 25 million carton equivalents for the Northwest, and we expect to be up slightly in volume, as well,” said Scott Marboe, director of marketing with Wenatchee-based Oneonta Trading Corp.

Sizing and quality should be assets this year, Marboe said.

“July will have some great opportunities for ad weeks,” he said.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group also is expecting a good year for cherries.

“The Pacific Northwest has enjoyed a nice warm spring and generally good cherry weather thus far,” David Nelley, Oppy’s category vice president, said in late April. 

“We have just passed ‘full bloom’ in The Dalles, Ore., where our grower partner Orchard View Cherries is gearing up for a mid-June start and about 1.3 million boxes of fruit.”

A “large and late” California cherry crop means there will be “virtually no gap” between the two regions, Nelley said.

“This is great news for growers, retailers and consumers, because supplies should be steady and, accordingly, we expect to see fewer spikes in pricing,” Nelley said.

Oppy is “particularly excited” about July 1 Canada Day and July 4 Independence Day opportunities, Nelley said.

“With our crop starting in mid-June, we’re encouraging cherry ads for the week before and the week of the holidays,” he said. 

“Our Chelan program will be in full production at that point, so retailers can get ‘two bites’ of a preferred cherry variety for not just one but two ... long-weekend holiday celebrations.”

Chelan, Wash.-based Chelan Fresh Marketing also is anticipating a good cherry crop, said Tim Evans, general sales manager.

“This year is shaping up to be similar timing to last year, or a few days later,” he said. 

“Last year was a high-quality crop of cherries, and we are having some very nice weather this season for bloom and post-bloom. With great post-bloom weather, it usually makes for a good-quality crop.” 

Last year’s crop was one of the best in Andy Tudor’s 30-plus years in the business, so anything approaching that would be a victory, said Tudor, vice president of business development with Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co.

“Consumers responded with repeat purchases, (which) allowed us to move through the crop with excellent rotation to continually deliver the freshest product to retail shelves,” Tudor said. 

“Rainier is looking forward to a repeat with the 2019 crop. The weather during bloom has been ideal, moderate day temps and warm nights. This carried on post-bloom for ideal cell division.”

The chelans, skeenas and other varieties “set a nice crop” this year, although bings are “lighter than last year,” Tudor said.
“A key indicator of crop load is the number of flowers — or cherries — per bud,” Tudor said. 

“Overall industry opinion is three to four per bud. Past years may have been six or seven per bud. This could indicate a very nice crop load with the ability to gain size, once we get past the chelans.”

Both conventional and organic cherries have “pulled forward a few days,” Tudor said.

Rainier anticipates a June 10 start, with “a quick ramp-up” in volume, he said.

“This will allow us to set up Fourth of July promotions,” he said. “Once we get to July, it will be time to promote dark sweet cherries every week.” 

Rainier’s organic dark sweets start harvest a few days before the conventional cherries, Tudor said.

“Our volume is substantial and front-loaded; this allows for promotions from June into mid-July,” he said.

Rainier variety cherries should peak from June 20 to July 20, Tudor said.

Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co. voiced similar optimism.

“Overall, our fruit size, quality and volume looks to be good again this year,” said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing.

Sage Fruit expects to pack about 1.4 million boxes of cherries this year, Sinks said.

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