YAKIMA — Northwest cherry growers are expected to harvest a large crop in the coming months.
The five-state Northwest cherry growing region is projected to harvest 24.9 million 20-pound boxes this year, according to the initial estimate released this week by Northwest Cherry Growers, which promotes cherries grown in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah.
That amount would be below the 25.4 million and 26.4 million boxes harvested in 2018 and 2017, respectively. If the estimate holds, the 2019 crop would be the third largest ever.
The number is based on packing house and grower reports from about 10 days earlier, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Northwest Cherry Growers, which will continue adjusting its estimate in the weeks leading up to the start of the cherry harvest.
The start of the harvest looks to be a few weeks later this year, due to snow in February and cold temperatures in March that slowed cherry growth, Thurlby said. That may create issues with planned retail promotions.
Harvest typically is underway by the first part of June.
“Being two weeks later than normal, will we have enough to fill the domestic market before the 4th?” Thurlby said, referring to the Fourth of July holiday, which is a crucial promotion period for the Northwest cherry industry.
Thurlby is also watching the California cherry market. The state has an earlier harvest and looks to have a record crop this year.
If the two markets overlap, that may mean more cherries and depressed prices. Having an abundance of California cherries might impact consumer interest in the fruit by the time Northwest cherries are shipped to U.S. retailers and impact sales.
And then there’s China. Just two years ago, it was the No. 1 export market for Northwest cherries.
Last year, China placed tariffs of 15 percent and 25 percent, respectively, in May and July of last year. The tariffs were in response to U.S. tariffs imposed on Chinese products, including steel and aluminum. That brought the total tariff for Northwest cherries shipped to the country to 50 percent. As a result, shipments to China dropped to 1.7 million boxes in 2018.
Last year’s tariffs are still in place, but the Northwest cherries were not among the items slated for additional duties as part of new tariffs China imposed on the U.S. Monday amid an escalating trade war between the two countries in recent weeks.
“But the escalation puts a dark cloud over the market for the season,” Thurlby said.