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US (WA): Cherry season off to rocky start
“We've had a diminished crop so far,” said Stemilt Growers' Roger Pepperl. “We had poor pollination, and then rain took out some of our June cherries.” While exact numbers on how much of this month's crop was affected weren't available, Pepperl said it was a significant amount. But he noted that Stemilt's cherry season, that's planned to go into late-August or early-September, should see increased volumes of fruit in July.
Similarly, Columbia Marketing International's Bob Mast expects the latter half of the season to be much better than the beginning.
“We've been off to a slow start, and we hope to ramp things up when the weather turns,” said Mast. “It's going to be important for retailers to catch up with sales that have been lost due to lack of availability, so the hope is to get late season sales going.” The weather Mast mentioned has included inopportune rain. While precipitation has slowed down the harvesting of fruit, it's also made for cracked fruit that needs to be culled. The more fruit that is weeded out because it's cracked, the less fruit available on the market. That's caused problems for retailers who want to take advantage of strong demand ahead of the Fourth of July holiday.
“Supplies from California finished off pretty quickly, so demand for the volume coming out of the Pacific Northwest picked up rapidly,” explained Mast. “We're frustrated because retailers want to get fruit into the system for the Fourth of July, so we're looking to transition into our later season varieties.” With diminished volumes of fruit, pricing has been high. But less fruit per tree has also meant that the cherries that do make it to stores are larger and of very good quality.
“This is some of the best quality fruit we've seen in a while,” said James Michael, vice president of marketing for Northwest Cherries. “Fewer buds and fewer cherries per tree means better quality, so the fruit on shelves is incredible, and that's fueling demand.” Increased demand and good quality fruit have been the bright spots to a beginning of the season that has seen lower volumes. Now growers are hoping to get past the rough start and finish the season strong.
“It's been a bad June so far,” said Pepperl, “but we anticipate having a good July.”
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