Cool spring weather has extended the cherry harvest season, but there are a lot of cherries out there to market, and many are less-than-optimal size.
QUINCY, Grant County — The good news is, cool spring weather has extended the cherry harvest season, removing some of the peaks that can make cherry marketing such a headache. The bad news is, there are a lot of cherries out there to market.
“It’s a big one. It may be a record; we’ll see,” said Steve Lutz, senior strategist for CMI Orchards, Wenatchee. The company sells fruit for growers throughout the region, including Quincy and Ephrata.
Crop estimates for 2017 range between 22 and 23 million 20-pound boxes. The Washington record is 23.2 million, set in 2014.
Demand was listed as “fairly good” and the market as “steady” for Wednesday on the USDA’s market news service, which reports prices daily.
Rainier cherries in premium sizes are selling at about $40 to $46 per box, while mid-sizes are selling for $40 to $42 per box, with most going for about $42 per box. Rainiers are the red and yellow variety; they always bring a premium price, Lutz said.
Premium sizes in red cherries — varieties like Bing, Skeena and Sweetheart — are bringing about $36 to $42 per box, mostly $36 to $38. Mid-size cherries are bringing $25 to $31, mostly $25 to $26,
That price range illustrates a crucial fact about cherries. Size matters, and it can matter a lot. Unfortunately, 2017 cherries are not as big as 2016 cherries. But cherry quality appears to be good, Lutz said.
The bottom line: a lot of cherries to sell, many at less-than-optimal size.
Washington is world-famous for its apples and has been growing them for more than a century. The cherry market is new, comparatively speaking. “We’re trying to find out at this point how big the market actually is,” Lutz said.
“There’s more product out there,” which makes for downward pressure on prices. But “with the right size and timing there are still windows of opportunity” to make money, he said.
In an earlier interview, Tianna DuPont of WSU-Chelan County Extension said the cool spring spread out the bloom season, which should spread out harvest. Lutz said that’s proving to be accurate. “We’re about where we thought we’d be,” he said.
Peak cherry season is July, traditionally around July 4, although the peak actually occurs in the following two to three weeks.
Right now harvest is “at a high plateau that will continue the next couple weeks,” Lutz said. But cherries will continue to come into the warehouses for another five to six weeks, although most of the local crop will be harvested by the end of July. “There should be a lot of fruit available through the end of August.”