WENATCHEE — It’s the crunch that makes Skylar Rae cherries a coveted variety for consumers and retailers.
“It holds up really well when exporting it or shipping it. The shelf life is a lot longer, so it’s a great cherry for retailers to get behind,” said Rochelle Bohm, a brand manager for CMI Orchards.
Stemilt Growers helped launch the brand, which is owned by the Toftness and Van Hoven families of Tip Top Orchards, in 2015.
Then this spring CMI Orchards was brought on to expand market distribution. It’s a first-of-its-kind partnership for the two companies, fueled by the variety’s explosion in both popularity and production volume.
“(Stemilt) did a wonderful job establishing a market for Skylar Rae, developing a beautiful label for it and getting it into the marketplace,” Bohm said. “... With the volume that’s increasing, they decided it made sense to bring on a secondary marketer.”
The variety was discovered by the Toftness family in 2004 after they lost their daughter, Skylar Rae Toftness, to an illness, Bohm said.
“The story goes that they were walking through and they discovered this cherry and at the time they discovered it, a rainbow appeared over the orchard,” she said. “They viewed it as a sign that their daughter Skylar Rae was sending a message that they should look into this cherry.”
After growing more of the cherry, they decided to launch it commercially. Over the past few years, production has ramped up significantly, said Stemilt spokeswoman Brianna Shales.
“Anytime you have a new variety or a new planting of something, it grows pretty exponentially every single year, just because it takes so long to get cherry trees into production,” she said. “The first year you have boxes, the next year you have loads and it just grows.”
Now there are several orchardists in the area who grow Skylar Rae — and they’re nearly all in the midst of harvest right now, Shales said.
NCW’s recent cool weather has slowed production down slightly, but interest in the variety remains as high as ever, she said.
“The demand for the cherry from the retail environment has been really strong. That’s why, for us, the season is going well because there’s such great demand for it both on the export market and domestically,” she said. “The cooler weather and the wind have definitely slowed down the cherry a little bit, but we have no reason to doubt that we’ll have a successful season.”