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US (CA): Cherry crop projections are strong

San Joaquin County cherry growers, on the verge of harvesting the region's premiere Bing variety beginning this weekend, look forward to a crop of average size and good quality.

That would be a welcome change from 2011, when late spring rains wiped out much of the valuable crop, causing losses estimated at $146 million. While last year's final production numbers are not available, the county's fresh market cherry crop in 2010 was valued at $179 million.

"As growers, we all need a good year," said Skip Foppiano, who grows cherries and nut and vegetable crops as well as runs Morada Produce Co., a packing operation east of Stockton.

San Joaquin County, the heart of California's cherry industry, avoided some of the problems seen in other parts of the Central Valley, such as frosts in the south and damaging hailstorms in the mid-Valley.

"For the most part, the quality is very good. The market is very good," Foppiano said Tuesday. "Mother Nature allowing, we should have a nice, profitable season for the growers."

Bruce Fry, who directs growing operations at Mohr-Fry Ranches in Lodi, said the weather is benefiting the fruit from a slow ripening.

"It looks pretty clean out there," he said Tuesday. "The fruit size looks good; especially with the cool weather we've had this week, they're sizing up slowly."

The crop looks to be of average to lighter-than-average size, perhaps due to early spring storms.

"We had that rain during bloom, so the bees didn't have the opportunity to pollinate as much as they could," Fry said.

Market demand for this year's crop looks good, said Tom Gotelli, a principal of O-G Packing, one of the area's largest cherry-producing and packing operations.

"The market's pretty good. There's a real interest in cherries," he said.

Asian export markets are playing a big part in that demand, with traditional markets in Japan, Taiwan and Korea looking for California fruit and being augmented by increasing sales to China.

"They're hungry for cherries," Gotelli said.

Area farmers are now harvesting early maturing varieties, and the Bing harvest should begin this weekend.

"By the first of the month, between the first and 15th of June, we'll be rolling pretty good in Bings," Gotelli predicted.

Cherries are a leading cash crop in San Joaquin County, in a good year bringing in gross sales of $200 million, or $1 of every $10 in the county's $2 billion-a-year agricultural sector. But bad weather, particularly heavy rains near or at harvest time, can cause devastating losses.

That's why most growers produce other crops as well, said Jeff Colombini, president of Lodi Farming, which cultivates other orchard crops, including nuts and olives, in addition to cherries.

While his early cherry varieties were smaller than usual, he looks forward to an average-size Bing harvest.

"There's got to be some good years sprinkled in there or ... we'd all be out of businesses," he said.

Source: www.recordnet.com

Publication date: 5/24/2012


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