NCW — Cherry growers from Washington expect a delayed, but plentiful harvest season this summer. And the delay could break a record.
“Possibly the latest we have ever seen,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Commission.
He said the cherry harvest delay is due to the cold weather at the beginning of the spring, slowing down buds blooming on the trees.
The industry expects to start the cherry harvest on June 15, he said. Normally, the harvest kicks off on June 1, Thurlby said.
June 15, 2011, was the record for the latest cherry harvest for the Northwest, Thurlby said. He said if this year’s harvest begins on June 16 or 17, it will break the record.
“The bad news is that these late starts aren’t particularly good for us because we like to have volume built up and get the ball rolling before the Fourth of July,” Thurlby said.
Thurlby said cherries are very popular on the Fourth of July around the country and a great opportunity for the cherry growers.
“But if we don’t have the pipeline loaded up and have fruit moving out to all the grocery stores around the country, then we miss the Fourth of July and that’s horrible,” Thurlby said. “So these late starts make us really nervous.”
According to the Northwest Horticulture Council‘s website, Pacific Northwest cherries made up 73% of the fresh U.S. sweet cherry crop by volume in 2022.
However, Thurlby said there is “good news” and he’s optimistic that this is going to be a successful cherry season for cherry growers here in the Wenatchee Valley and the rest of the Northwest.
“So this is the other side — the bloom this year has been fantastic,” he said. “I mean the trees just went ‘pop’ and they got a real nice bloom on them.”
Thurlby said he predicts the cherry industry will have a moderate crop size, 22 to 23 million 20-pound boxes of cherries. Those numbers are the goal each year, he added. According to the Northwest Horticulture Council’s website, 20 million 20-pound boxes of cherries were harvested in 2021.
But last year, because of the cold, wet, snowy April in Wenatchee and around the state, the industry only harvested around 13 million 20-pound boxes of cherries, Thurlby said.
“A lot of us were worried. You can’t have two bad years in a row,” he said.
But he said that anxiety faded. Yakima-based Thurlby said he recently traveled to Wenatchee to meet with growers and said the bloom in the valley looked “gorgeous.”
He noted some orchards he saw in the unincorporated Wenatchee Heights area had some fruit trees with buds killed from the cold, as the elevation there played a factor. But for the most part, the bloom looked “amazing,” he said.
The Washington apple industry also took a hit last year, but Todd Fryhover, Washington Apple Commission president, said he’s optimistic.
According to the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, 100 million 40-pound boxes of Washington apples were harvested in 2022. In 2021, 123 million boxes were harvested.
The apple harvest doesn’t begin until August, but Fryhover wrote in an email, “While it’s still early, bloom looks fantastic, there’s a lot of optimism around an increased crop. We’re looking forward to having a return to a normal crop year. We’re also excited about the continued diversity of new varieties and meeting consumer demands with new tastes and textures.”