Cherry harvest expected to be bigger than last year
NCW — While no record cherry crop is expected this year, growers in the region have estimated a hefty harvest that will likely surpass last year’s banner crop by around 7 percent.
Early field estimates from Columbia Marketing International (CMI) in Wenatchee and Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima say the industry expects to ship 20.7 million 20-pound boxes this year — more than last year’s 19.3 million boxes but short of the record 23.2 million in 2014.
Rainier cherry shipments this year are expected to hit 1.7 million 15-pound boxes — about the same as last year.
“The news is good,” said Steve Castleman, vice-president of sales at CMI.
He emphasized that warm spring temperatures, a strong bloom and no damage from frost is leading to an early cherry crop.
“The crop looks very good and timing at this point is nearly identical to last year,” said Castleman. “We’re telling our retailer partners to anticipate good availability for mid-June through mid-July.”
Harvest of the earliest cherries in the region — from trees around Yakima — could begin around May 23-25, according to a news release from Northwest Cherry Growers.
In Quincy, local orchardist Kent Karstetter said he’s about four days ahead of last year. Karstetter expects harvesting of Sweetheart cherries to begin June 18-22.
The industry has the potential to ship just under 11 million boxes in June and another 9 million in July, said the Northwest press release.
“We anticipate that the heaviest volume and peak promotional weeks will fall into a narrow window,” said Castleman.
To boost sales, retailers will want to move promotions to earlier in the season, starting mid-June through mid-July, he said.
Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for CMI, said cherry sales for top-performing grocers deliver an average of 7.5 percent of total produce revenues in June. That compares to an average 4.9 percent contribution from other produce items.
Grocery retailers encourage purchases by prominently displaying cherries early in the season, pricing cherries competitively to entice trial purchases and by limiting choice of cherry-packaging options, which can dilute shelf presence, said Lutz.
For both companies, crop estimates were compiled using field assessments, historical data, crop expansion, degree days and other factors, according to Northwest.
— By Mike Irwin, Wenatchee World