California cherries, like these grown in Sunnyvale, are cracking and splitting because of rain. ( Courtesy: C.J. Olson Cherries )

Emerging from the wettest May many can remember, California cherry growers and shippers say harvests will be late and production will be down due to rain-related fruit damage.

Mike Collins of Chinchiolo Stemilt California, whose cherries are marketed by Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., said after recent conversations with several shippers in San Joaquin County, he can roughly estimate the statewide cherry crop to be about half, or 5.25 million boxes, of the 10.5 million boxes estimated at the season’s start due to rain-related fruit damage.

And it may come in lower, depending on the condition of the fruit on the remaining trees, said Collins, chairman of the California Cherry Board’s estimating committee.

Harvest of the bing variety, the state’s largest-volume cherry, hasn’t started. Those have shown to have possibly suffered the most damage so far, he said.

Early season estimates for bings were 4.5 million cartons, which was conservative, Collins said.

“We intend to continue to pack as an industry, and it’s possible that we will continue to do so till the middle of June, but at significantly reduced daily production,” Collins said.

If the current rough estimate holds true, production would be close to the six-year average of 6.5 million boxes, he said.

Will Callis, the cherry board’s export promotion program manager, said that one saving grace for the industry was that the season started about two to three weeks later due to late-blooming fruit.

“We’re going to have quality cherries June 5 to June 20 at least,” he said.
Growers are considering whether or not to harvest orchards showing significant fruit damage.

Ralph Santos, owner of El Camino Packing Inc., Gilroy, Calif., grows and packs cherries from about 200 acres. He said 20% to 40% of his early cherries are cracked, due to excess rain. Later blocks appear to have less damage.

“Now, I’m trying to assess damage and what we’re going to do, and be able to do,” he said.

Andy Mariani, owner of Andy’s Orchard, Morgan Hill, Calif., is debating whether to skip harvest of his most damaged orchards. In some, more than 60% of the fruit is damaged, while others are only 30% affected. He grows on 40 acres.

He will not be harvesting one highly-damaged orchard because it costs too much.

“This is the reality of (having to decide) whether you’re going to pick or not, and how to manage a damaged crop,” he said.

He said he hopes to start harvesting the least affected orchards by around June 3, about two-and-a-half weeks later than normal, he said. 

“I would be happy if I can pick 50% of my crop — but I doubt that,” Mariani said.