The season for cherries in the Northern Hemisphere is off to a positive start, depending on the country, whilst in other markets it has just come to a close. In the Netherlands, the cherry season kicked off with high-quality Spanish cherries, while the supply and demand remain balanced. The German market fears a lack of supply from Spanish growing regions, but reports from Spain say that the recent warm weather should accelerate the process. Italy faces challenges with persistent rainfall causing significant fruit cracking, leading to limited supply and higher prices for early cherries. Northern Italy, especially Emilia Romagna, has been impacted by adverse weather events, affecting the start of the campaign. Greece foresees significant volumes of cherries this year, exceeding last year's production, but faces tough competition in the European market. South Africa had a fruitful season, while North American cherry growing regions are gearing up for the upcoming season.
The Netherlands: Supply and demand for cherries well balanced
At a Dutch cherry importer, the Spanish season kicked off on 7 April with the greenhouse cherries. "These were really excellent quality with a high brix. The price at that time was around 40 euros per kilo. We are currently selling cherries from the Spanish regions of Jerte and Huesca. So far, the cherries from Huesca have been excellent in colour and flavour. Personally, I expect slightly more problems with the quality of the cherries in the coming weeks due to the high rainfall expected in the Spanish regions."
"The supply of cherries is slowly increasing. Demand and supply are currently well balanced. Prices are slightly higher than other years. For example, the 28+ size grading is currently selling for €7.50 per kilo. As better weather is due next week, we also expect demand to increase. Spanish cherries are as popular as ever, especially now the nice weather is coming and all the other stone fruits are quite expensive. Due to the high temperatures in Spain, the varieties are following each other at a rapid pace and the Spanish season will end sooner, the importer expects.
"In ten days, we expect the first Dutch greenhouse cherries, these will need a little more time to reach the right quality," he says. In Eastern -Europe, the cherries are now out of the flowering period and fruiting is underway, This year, more cherries are expected from Eastern European countries. Quite a few more Kordia and Regina cherries have been planted here in recent years. These are expected to enter the market at the same time as the Dutch cherries, but nevertheless, the Dutch cherries will continue to find their way to consumers," the importer said.
France: National production of cherries up slightly
National production of cherries in France is slightly up, by 2% in most regions, except in Auvergne Rhône Alpes, amounting to nearly 40,000 tons.
The cherry campaign started about ten days ago. If the demand is still timid because of the lack of sunshine, it could increase in the next few days if the weather improves. Prices are quite high at the moment, according to some operators.
Germany: Thicker calibres scarce
The Spanish cherry harvest starts this year with a 1-2 week delay. In the entire Spanish stone fruit sector, produce is scarce, especially the thicker calibres. Turkey and Greece have gained in recent years, while Spain has lost market share, mainly due to the price difference. Overall, the cold weather has slowed down the demand for stone fruit. Now spring-like weather is in the offing, which is why demand is expected to increase.
Spanish cherries can usually be shipped from May to the end of August. Due to the marketing of domestic goods from June/July, demand traditionally declines noticeably in the second half of the season.
Italy: Heavy rain damages early cherries, raising prices
Persistent rainfall affected the early cherries, causing significant cracking on the fruit. This production problem, however, generates a positive commercial situation. In fact, prices are still high for the first supplies of early cherries, as supply is limited both due to the discarding of damaged cherries and because the weather trend does not allow for fast ripening
In a large part of northern Italy, primarily in Emilia Romagna, the last two weeks have seen very negative weather events such as heavy rain, hailstorms, and floods. Producers started the harvest of early cherries, even getting decent prices, around 5 €/kg. Then a lot of fruit was discarded because of the cracking that excessive rain causes. Even cherries protected by rain covers suffered considerable damage. The start of the campaign, in the north of Italy, is not the most favourable.
In Apulia, the prices paid to producers in week 20 of 2023 range from €4.50 to €6.50/kg, an increase compared to last year. On the whole, the 2023 cherry campaign sees a slight reduction in volumes compared to last year (around 15%), but on the other hand there are very good sizes.
In Campania, the cherry campaign has not yet got off the ground as the bad weather in recent weeks has damaged the quality of the product, leading to cracking and various rotting events. As a result, retailers are receiving product by the dropper and only of good quality. Obviously, prices are high.
Spain: High temperatures help delayed early cherries along
Initial forecasts pointed to a late cherry harvest given the delay in flowering, but high temperatures during the spring have finally advanced the harvest in most of the growing areas. One of the most relevant areas is the Jerte Valley, which this year comes with more volumes. Until this week the supply has been generally limited with early varieties, as usual, at the beginning of the season, but from this week on varieties that have a higher hardness and that are more optimal for export, are starting to get picked. Besides, high temperatures are making the harvest go faster than usual.
The cherries' quality is high thanks to the warm climate and the absence of rainfall, and the early varieties have slightly lower calibres due to their rapid maturation. For the mid-season and late varieties the growers expect more normal sizes. The markets are welcoming the first cherries with enthusiasm. As usual, prices are very high until supply begins to abound. It's only in June that the sector will really know how the cherry market develops since that's the moment when a large part of the Spanish and other producing areas enter the market and when prices adjust the most. It seems that most countries of the Mediterranean arc will have good productions this year.
According to a nursery, In the extra-early and early segment, the vast majority of the traditional varieties are being replaced at great speed for harder and more consistent varieties.
Hungary: Late heavy rains cause cracking in Hungarian cherries
The harvest of early greenhouse-grown cherries started around 10 May. Producers in the country estimate a normal 2023 cherry harvest of about 10 000 tons. A producer describes their Sweet Early from retractable roof greenhouse as follows: “It has exceptional quality and size for the variety as a result of precision climate management, growing in pots, and SRP Pergola pruning.”
Weather leading up to this year’s harvest was near ideal, with only one frost day, which had a limited impact. However, heavy rain fell across production areas in Hungary this past week with most orchards receiving 50 mm and many in the west of the country between 80-120 mm. The rains caused cracking in early varieties of Burlat, Valerij Cskalov and Nimba. “That is a lot of rain. Cracking also occurred in plastic covered orchards through the root pressure. Not all is lost, depending on location and variety the cracking can be between 20-50%.”
Hungarian cherries are exported to Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Germany.
Greece: Greece sets sights on new markets for cherries
This year, Greece is expecting big volumes of cherries. This is especially true after the mid-early varieties. Overall, it means they’ll have a larger production than they did last year as this year there weren’t any problems with frost.
"Greek cherries have a good name in the European market. Unfortunately, here in Greece, we don’t take advantage of the cherry packing and distributing possibilities of our country. Most exporters sell their largest volumes to Italy and Romania, straight from the farms. As a result, Greek products end up on the European market as Italian or Romanian," a Greek cherry exporter stated.
Greek cherry exporters would like to enter the German market, but almost all European cherries as well as the Turkish end up there, so competition can be very hard and Greek cherries can’t compete on price with other countries, like Serbia and such. They simply have a smaller cost of production. Other markets that everyone in Greece wants to enter are France and the UK, both are big markets, with a lot of potential.
Turkey: Increasing demand for smaller sized cherries
Given the current field conditions, this season has a more promising potential in terms of crop quality, high volume and the long availability period in the production areas across Turkey. The blossom period was good, with no frost or rain damage at a significant scale, and the setting of fruit seems intense in the orchards.
The first roadway packings for Europe are expected to start in week 21, together with air cargo deliveries to destinations like the Gulf and East Asian countries. It seems the season will continue until week 32. “The increases in the cost of packaging materials and labour seem like the two most prominent challenges in the season for us. This is a result of an uncurbed inflation issue in the country over the past couple of years, but we think the impact of these challenges will remain very slight on our operations," a Turkish exporter explained. “If we’re looking at the demand and prices, it seems the current market is looking for smaller cherries more than the larger ones. The demand for small sized cherries was always there, but in the past couple of years we have observed an increasing trend for this demand."
China: Optimism about premium cherry sales
Due to the weather, the production of Shandong cherries has decreased this season, and the production season has been delayed. Frost affected production quantity, and harvest is expected to decrease by one third compared to the previous season. In previous years, Shandong cherries were listed as early as the end of May. This year, it needs to be postponed to the beginning of June to mid-June, about 10 days later.
This season, the production is also reduced due to extreme weather. It is estimated that the price this year will be the same as last year. Basically the same. In terms of fruit, last season's cherries had problems such as cracks and a large proportion of small fruit. This season, this situation is less, and the proportion of large fruit is ideal. In addition, due to the drought and little rain in this production season, the taste of cherries is estimated to be sweeter than in previous years.
South Africa: Good growing season dampened by challenging economies
South African cherry orchards are currently in a dormant phase after a very good production season. Retailers are importing limited amounts of cherries.
“It was an exceptional season for our fruit after a spring that was warmer and offered more heat units than in the previous season,” says a cherry producer. “Fruit sizing was really good as a result of orchard practices we’d undertaken.” However, the markets (mostly Europe and the UK) were very conservative given the challenging economic context.
South Africa is the 29th largest cherry exporter in the world. In 2020/21, 900 tonnes of cherries were produced, mostly for domestic consumption but with exports of around 400 tonnes. Last season the total production jumped to over 3,100 tonnes, of which 19% was exported and 29% went to processing, with the balance sold fresh on the local market.
Looking at 2021/22 exports, 60% went to the UK and 27% to the Middle East. Cherry exports to the Middle East have seen strong growth. Only 6% of South Africa’s cherries went to Europe during 2020/2021 and the same volume to Russia.
South Africa has seen a 77% increase in the area under cherries over the past five years. Models predict that there will be more than a thousand hectares of cherries by 2026. Two-thirds of the cherry orchards are in the Western cape, and of those, 86% are in the Koue Bokkeveld, a high-altitude mountainous region where apples are also grown. The second largest cherry-growing region is surprising: it’s the Northwest Province, not a traditional fruit-growing district, but low cold requirement cherry varieties from, primarily, the USA have made it possible.
North America: Late start to North American cherry growing regions
California has a projected 8+ million boxes, though the early varieties started 2.5-3 weeks late thanks to cold temperatures. This puts pressure on growers and packers for the Memorial Day holiday and one shipper says retailers won’t get the volumes needed for those promotions. Peak volumes start the last week of May/the first week of June until July 4. This means very high spot market pricing--a 10.5 row cherry at $95-$100/box. May 15-June 5, spot market pricing is expected to come down more than $25/box.
In the Pacific Northwest growers and shippers look to welcome an estimated 20-21 million cases of cherries--much more than 2022’s 12.4 million boxes. Dark Sweets should start June 12-15th while Rainier will begin June 22/23. The season should go until mid to late July. “This gives us good promotable volumes,” says one shipper. “If we harvest a 20-21 million box crop, we’ll see aggressive cherry retail prices all summer.”
The majority of cherry orchards in British Columbia have finished blossom. It too was preparing for a later season start. “The start of blossom was about two weeks behind but we’re now in a heat wave and that will almost certainly advance the season,” says one shipper. Early signs point towards an average to good-size crop, though a better indication will come in the post-pollination period.
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