QUINCY, Grant County — If Mother Nature does her part, it could be a good year for Washington cherries.
Cherry trees are still blooming, so detailed data about the crop won’t be available for a few weeks, said Dan Kelly, of the Washington Growers Clearinghouse in Wenatchee. But the early signs are a little encouraging.
“Great bloom,” Kelly said. “We are expecting a large crop but not a ‘monster crop,’ as there are fewer flowers per bud this year,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington Fruit Commission in Yakima.
So far the weather has cooperated, with temperatures above freezing but not hot enough to influence maturity, Kelly said. Bloom is five days to a week ahead of schedule, he said.
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“The crop is early, which means there is great potential for Fourth of July promotions,” Thurlby said.
“We expect the first cherries to be picked on or near June 4 this year,” Thurlby said.
Most cherries are sold within a few days or weeks after being picked.
The length of the growing-selling season is critical — it helps make the difference between a year like 2012 and a year like 2009. In 2012, the largest cherry crop in state history sold out at excellent prices, Kelly said. In 2009, prices dropped dramatically.
The cherry-growing region stretches from the Tri-Cities in the south to Brewster, Okanogan County, and Omak in the north, and fruit maturity comes first in the south and moves north, Thurlby said.
“It appears there will be a nice harvest progression from south to north,” he said. “We do not expect to see growers in north and south harvesting at the same time this year.”
That’s in contrast to 2009, when the first cherries weren’t picked until June 17. “The growing districts were compressed, and we were forced to ship 18 million boxes in 45 days in 2009,” Thurlby said. That contributed to a disastrous drop in prices, he said.
“We hope to get 90 days, at least, of shipping this year on a crop that might end up being 18 million 20-pound equivalent boxes,” he said.
California is Washington’s chief competitor in the cherry market, and California’s weather hasn’t cooperated. The California crop is estimated at 5 million to 6 million boxes, Thurlby said. California cherries are expected to mature early, so “We do not expect a large crossover of volume between the Northwest and California,” he said.
But Mother Nature has to do her part. “All indicators look good,” Kelly said, “but what does that mean? There are lot of bumps in the road between now and then.”
It still could get too cold or too hot; it could rain or hail at the wrong time, he said. “We have to wait and see how the weather treats us.”
“We are running promotional programs in 18 countries, and expect to have most of our promotions in place by the last week in May,” Thurlby said. If conditions remain positive through June, that should “result in the critical momentum required in moving the late-season crop,” he said.