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Rain significantly damages California cherry crop

About a month ago, California cherry growers had begun the harvest of what they anticipated to be one of their best crops in years. Pre-season estimates pegged that volume at more than 10 million cartons, but May rains have taken a major bite out of that total.20190517 145103

Kyle Persky, sales manager for Rivermaid Trading Co., based in Lodi, CA, said it was very difficult to quantify the total damage to the California cherry crop but said that it was significant.

He said the Lodi area of California’s San Joaquin Valley, which is the epicenter of the cherry deal, was hit with three rain events stretched over two weeks in mid-May. The first two did some damage, but it was the rain and hail over the weekend of May 18-19 that caused major losses. On Tuesday, May 21, Persky and others were still evaluating the damage but he said the weekend storms wiped out a significant amount of production for at least 10 days, which would take the growers through Memorial Day Weekend and to the end of the month.

“After that we will salvage what we can,” he said.

Weather reports revealed that in a one-hour period on Sunday afternoon, May 19, about an inch-and-a- half of rain fell in the area, with hail later coming long enough to cumulate on the ground.

Persky noted that the sorting equipment is top notch so the fruit that California shippers ultimately put in the box and ship until its season ends around June 15 will be of good quality, but there will clearly be far fewer cartons than previously estimated.

While pre-season estimates predicted a total California fresh cherry crop in the 10 million carton range, there is no accurate forecast as to how much was lost. Grower-shippers began harvesting and shipping the cherry crop in late April so they did get a couple of weeks of fruit before the inclement weather came, and they are keeping their fingers crossed that they will get a couple of more weeks of shipments in June. Several reports indicate that total volume for the season will be in the five to seven million carton range.

With the California cherry crop experiencing volume issues, the retail industry will soon be looking to the northwest to fill their shelves. Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing, based in Chelan, WA, said colder than normal weather appears to be pushing the Washington cherry crop back a bit. On May 21, he said it appeared that Chelan Fresh would begin harvest on conventional cherries on June 15, “but it has been cold this week and that start date might get pushed back a bit.”

Washington is projected to harvest 24.9 million 20-pounbd boxes of cherries this season, according to the pre-season estimate of the Northwest Cherry Growers. While this is below the 26.4 million cartons harvested in 2017 and the 25.4 million harvested in 2018, it would still mark the third-largest crop in history. With any late growth spurts it could even move in to second place if total volume is even a few percentage points higher than the estimate.

Riggan said the California crop could serve as a nice lead-in to Washington if it is a crop that is orderly marketed and exits the marketplace as Washington begins. With significantly less volume than anticipated, it appears the California cherries that will be marketed in June will be at fairly high prices and will set up Washington nicely for a strong start to its season. “We will have good volume by the end of June and plenty of cherries to promote throughout July,” he said.

Blaine Markley, director of domestic sales for Rainier Fruit Co., based in Yakima, WA, noted that they would be one of the first firms with Northwest cherries this year “as we will be getting started the week of June 9.”

She said the firm’s organic production would start first followed by conventional cherries toward the end of that week. Markley predicted that Rainier would have promotable volume of cherries in time to ship for Fourth of July holiday promotions.

She added that as of May 21 it appeared as if Rainier would have organic cherries until the third week of July and its conventional fruit will last into August. She did note that there are many factors that go into that estimate and it could change as the season progresses.