From The Dalles, Oregon to Brewster, Washington, Northwest cherry growers are checking their orchards now, just before harvest. Infected trees have to be cut down. And the disease can spread like wildfire from tree to tree until an entire orchard is just stumps.
Cherry industry officials estimate the disruption has already chopped 40 million pounds of cherries from the harvest. Two things are at work: A phytoplasma, that’s similar to a bacteria, and a separate virus causing similar little-cherry symptoms. They’re spread by insects like leafhoppers and mealybugs.
“They’re small and pale, but they’re either bland or bitter,” Tianna DuPoint, with the Washington State University Extension in Wenatchee, said. “So they won’t hurt you if you eat them, but they’re not marketable.”
As reported on kuow.org, the Northwest harvest begins about the end of May. This year there will be fewer juicy red orbs than in years past. Nearly 21 million, 20-pound boxes is how many cherries will be picked in Washington and Oregon this year. That’s down about 20% from the record-setting 2017 crop. Still, 21 million boxes is a lot of cherries. Growers are struggling with export markets and air shipments that are more complex than normal with trade wars and the coronavirus pandemic.