Most California cherry varieties expected to be down

Growers in California's cherry producing regions have begun the annual harvest amidst reports of a heavily reduced crop. There are several reasons for the lighter set this year, and all have to do with weather events. For now though, growers are focused on packing what they have and making the season into a good one. 

"We have started the harvest with Brooks, Coral champagne, and the Royal varieties," said Nick Lucich of Delta Packing in Lodi. "Those are the main varieties right now. Next will be Tulare in a week and this will help out with overall volume."

"There are a lot of explanations for the lighter set, but the three main reasons involve weather," he continued. "Firstly, winter was warmer than usual and the trees did not have a sufficient dormancy. Secondly, in February we experienced a freeze just as the trees were budding. Lastly, March saw wet conditions when many orchards were in full bloom, with the rain slowing down bees and pollination. Out of these, the biggest factor was most likely the lack of chill hours."

Corals keeping season ticking over
The majority of the cherry varieties will have significantly reduced numbers this year. The Coral champagne, however, is not following the trend and the reason has to do with its characteristic. "The Corals are performing the best this season and providing a bright spot," Lucich explained. "The main reason why they are doing so well is because they require the least amount of chill hours when compared with the other varieties which were simply not able to set a good crop."

Not unexpectedly, prices are edging higher. Suppliers are noting an increased demand as buyers look to secure supply in light of the announced reduction in volume in California. "We are definitely in a demand exceeds supply situation," Lucich said. "This is typical for any start to the California cherry season but especially so this year. There is a sense of urgency behind the market to secure supply and as a result, prices are higher than they have been in recent years."

Another effect this will have is that May is expected to be the biggest month for shipments for the California crop. June typically sees the biggest numbers but as Lucich explained, the later varieties will also see a big drop in numbers. "Bing, which is normally the variety that carries the heaviest volume, is going to be very light this year," he noted. "We are yet to know just how light it will be but numbers will definitely be down this year. As a result, May will likely be the biggest month, which is unusual. As a result, we expect prices to remain strong throughout the California cherry season."

Exports less affected
While overall volume is significantly down, the export market will be less vulnerable to the increase in prices. "Such a low volume will mean exports are going to be impacted, but the export market will get a fair percentage," Lucich observed. "When prices are high, the export market is able to absorb that and has the ability to pay for it."

Furthermore, the characteristics of the fruit will favor this market, as Lucich went on to explain. "When the fruit set is lighter, the cherries tend to be larger, and exports have a preference for larger fruit."

For more information:
Nick Lucich
Delta Packing Co. of Lodi
Tel: +1 (209) 334-1023

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