Ideal weather conditions have provided a nice platform for Washington cherry growers as they look ahead to the harvest in less than a month's time. Growers say that during the bloom, the region experienced relatively warm weather and as a result, the trees have formed a good set. Although temperatures have cooled down since then, growers don't believe this will have any effect on the upcoming season.
"We had a very nice bloom here in Washington and 'Extenday' reflective ground covers are now being laid in the fields," noted Andy Tudor of Rainier Fruit Company. "These covers serve to keep the ground a little warmer and also direct more light into the base of the tree, enhancing photosynthesis. The weather was ideal during bloom, with temperatures into the 80s. This week, we are back into the mid-60s and low 70s, but we had enough heat during the May drop to allow for enough of the weaker fruit to drop off the tree. As a result, it looks like the orchards have set nicely and are not over-cropped, providing an excellent opportunity for the fruit to size up."
First harvest less than four weeks away
Some regions in Washington will begin their cherry harvest in just a few weeks time. For Rainier Fruit, their first harvest will consist of organic cherries, closely followed by conventional. Tudor said the state has estimated the cherry crop to be just under 25 million boxes, which would represent one the higher totals the state has seen.
"Harvest of Dark Sweet cherries is due to commence in three to four weeks time, depending on the location of the orchards," he said. "Our first harvest will be organic Dark Sweets starting June 6 and 7, with conventional following on June 8 - 10. We are anticipating a good, steady crop overall, with the back end of the crop possibly coming forward a little, resulting in some compression at that time. We are hopeful that this season will be as good as last year which was one of the best seasons I have experienced. Quality was excellent and so far, this is what we are seeing in the fields now."
Tudor added that Rainier Fruit Company will be consolidating their organic acreage, which was expanded significantly last year. "Our big transition to organic was last year but we are constantly replacing some of the older varieties with new ones with the aim to target certain production windows," he said. "In terms of packaging, we continue to offer our clamshells and stand-up pouch bags which have proven to be quite popular. Export markets tend to prefer either bulk packs or 5kg boxes, depending on the destination."
There has been a lot of noise surrounding the so-called trade war between China and the United States. Washington as a state tends to have a large amount of produce that it sends overseas so is particularly prone to such events. However, additional tariffs were already in place last year when Washington's cherry season began so growers are not expecting too many challenges. Additionally, with the issues now facing California's cherry supply, there is an expectation that demand will be stronger for Washington fruit than earlier thought.
"The rise in tariffs last year certainly did affect volumes of business into China," Tudor shared. "But we export to multiple regions including other parts of Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia. If California ends up producing less volume, there is expected to be more pent-up demand, including China and the broader Asian region."