The growing season has not been kind to many cherry producing regions in the northern hemisphere. In North America, some regions have lost up to 50% of their normal production due to cold weather and heavy rains, whilst Italy and Spain have also seen major losses in some areas as a result of similar conditions. Other have been significantly less affected, with prospects for cherries looking good in the Netherlands, Germany and France. Meanwhile in Oceania, prospects for the season were good, and Chile continues to increase its exports year on year to retain its title as the largest exporter of the fruit.
Netherlands: Good kick-off for cherry season
In the Netherlands, the Betuwe cherry season kicked off at the beginning of this month. A Dutch cherry grower speaks of a good kick-off, which is promising for the next two months. "The night frost in April has caused few problems for us. However, the hailstorms of a few weeks ago did cause some damage. Cherries were hit on one side of our orchard, but I think they will grow out of it. Fortunately, we had covered a large part of the orchard, otherwise it would have been much worse. I expect a good cherry season."
Germany: Covered cultivation dominates current market
In southern Germany, the first regional cherries were already being traded in week 21. Next week, the first Burlat cherries are expected to come on the market. The north is also getting ready for the upcoming cherry season. At the beginning of July, the cultivation cooperative Elbe Obst will start with the main varieties Kordia and Regina. The focus is on the second half of the season until late August. Covered cultivation in particular has taken off in recent years and dominates the current market.
As for the imported goods, Spain dominates the market, followed by Italy and Greece. Turkey is traditionally a little later, but is now also coming onto the market with the first batches. The price level is significantly higher than last year across the board.
France: Dynamic demand and high prices
This year the frost in France did not affect the cherry orchards as it did last year, so the 2022 harvest is estimated at 35,000 tons, an increase of 126% over one year and close to the 2017/20 average. Some disparities should be noted, like in Maine-et-Loire where some producers may have lost up to 50% of their crop, with the early varieties having been the most affected. The main production regions being the PACA region, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Occitanie.
The 2022 campaign started almost 3 weeks ago and will last until June. Sales are dynamic and producers are facing a "big demand". Prices are high but will not be able to compensate the few producers affected for the losses linked to the lack of production.
Italy: Good demand for Italian cherries, but lower than previous years
In Apulia, the Ferrovia cherry harvest is in full swing, while the last quantities of Bigarreau and Giorgia are being picked. The warm weather of the last few weeks has allowed the fruit to ripen faster and therefore more product is available for sale. Quotations for the Ferrovia cultivar are around 1.80-2 €/kg. Orders are still lively, although national and European demands are not comparable with those of previous years.
In the province of Verona, the harvest of early cherries is in progress. A group of 15 farmers in the Val D'Alpone is achieving excellent results. At the moment, one of the varieties being harvested is Sweet Aryana. The cherry orchards are cultivated at an altitude between 150 and 400 metres. The harvest in these areas starts around 10 May, slightly earlier, and continues until the end of June. "We only sell from size 26 upwards. The latest prices have been 4-5 euro for 26-28 calibre; 5-6 euro for 28-30 calibre; and up to 7 euro for the best batches of 32-34 calibre. In total, we sell around 60 tonnes of cherries per year."
Spain: Frost impacts Spanish cherry season
The Spanish cherry season started around a week later in the first week of May at the earliest growing areas due to a cold rainy end of the winter and beginning of the spring. In general, the Spanish cherry production is lower this year due to the impact of frosts in the North East of Spain. The first weeks soft early varieties have been supplied and at this moment harder and more consistent varieties better suited for shipping are available.
So far, sales are good, prices are high, better than in the same period last year, although they may fall from mid-June after the arrival of more production, both in Spain and in the rest of the producing countries, as no frost damage has been reported in France, Italy, Greece or Turkey. The sector fears that the Turkish production could flood the European markets as they won't be able to export as much as usual to Russia and Ukraine. Nevertheless, prices so far are high enough to cover the huge increase of the costs. It should be noted that the weather is very good in Spain, so the cherries' quality is very satisfactory.
Turkey: Increases in Turkish cherry production up to 15%
The quality of Turkish cherries are good, and the customers are satisfied. Demand is good compared to last year, but it could be better if China and South Korea could be opened to Turkish exports.
Crop volume in the early harvest areas were good but lower volume is expected in the middle harvest provinces. That said, the cherry crop overall will be significantly higher, at about a 10% to 15% increase.
Turkish production could divert to EU markets due to the risky environment of Ukraine and Russia. With the cheap labour and great leap in the technological investments in crop processing, Turkish products will definitely have attractive and competitive prices.
Belgium: Promising season, big improvement for organic cherries
The cherry season in Belgium is promising. A Belgian trader explains: "Everything looks like we’re going to have a good season in terms of quality and volumes. We expect to start with the early Samba variety in a week. Due to the bad weather conditions, the harvest has been slightly delayed and we still have smaller sizes compared to last year, but the expected good weather will give this a chance to improve. Due to the increased costs, it remains to be seen whether demand can keep up with the volumes. If the quality is good, we can however distinguish ourselves."
With regard to organic cherries, the difference with last season is striking. "After a dramatic last season, the difference this year in terms of quality, caliber and volumes is enormous. The frost has caused somewhat lesser Folfet cherries in places where it was -8 degrees Celsius, but the Samba cherries were, partly thanks to hard work and investments by the growers, not hindered by this. However, there is a lot of competition from abroad. Italy and Spain in particular are major competitors on price level. There is no difference in price between organic and conventional cherries in Italy and Spain."
China: Chinese cherry market continues to increase in consumption and production
China is a huge and fast growing market for cherries with growth in domestic cherry production, mainly from Shandong Province, and in imported cherries, primarily from Chile, the US and Canada. Chile is the largest supplier covering almost 90% of total cherry exports to China. Total Chinese cherry imports exceeded 20,000 tons for the first time in 2008. In 2020, they exceeded 210,000 tons. Chinese imports from Chile were less than 3,000 tons in 2008, while they were almost 195,000 tons in 2020.
Looking to the future, Chinese cherry imports are expected to face increasing competition from growing domestic supply, which is predicted to continue to rise significantly. According to a recent U.S Department of Agriculture report, China’s domestic cherry production was estimated to reach 600,000 metric tons in the 2021/22 season, which ended in March this year. The predicted output represents a 15% increase from the previous season, representing an total increase of 79,000 metric tons in production. Shandong is China’s largest cherry producing region, covering 50% of total production. Shandong’s output is expected continue to grow in the next five years.
There remains a quality gap between China’s domestic cherries and imported cultivars from Chile and North America. Chile saw a peak export year in the 2021/2022 season, when a bumper harvest flooded the market with cherries in Chinas off-season, which are the weeks after Chinese New Year.
Along with increased Chilean imports, US and Canadian cherries are about to arrive on the Chinese market, more or less around the same time as domestic cherries. Interest from the market remains strong, however, as the North American varieties are often of higher quality fruit compared to domestic cultivars. This year, due to backlogs mainly in the port of Shanghai but also in other entry ports to China, US cherry exporters are contemplating shipping their cargo by air.
North America: Up to 50% less production in areas
Prices on the North American market for cherries are around 5.2% higher than usual than the yearly average, due to adverse weather conditions during the growing season. The combination of snow and frost damaged buds, and has also caused delays in some production areas, causing increasing worried about the financial sustainability of the sector, as production and logistics costs continue to soar. The various production areas have been affected by these conditions to various extents.
California’s cherry harvest is estimated to be down close to 50% of what is considered an average year, as a freeze in late February negatively impacted the crop. This freeze was followed by an unusual amount of rain in April, a critical time, when the cherries were closer to maturity. Due to these factors causing a smaller crop, the fruit size is larger on average. Harvest for the state ended abruptly, a few California cherries were packed this week (nothing exportable), but the state is now done for the season.
The Washington cherry season is not only getting a later start this year, but it will also see a reduced crop.
“We’re forecasting between 50-60 percent of the crop, depending on the timing. The volume is down significantly and there’s still a whole lot of uncertainty because the weather has been pretty dicey up to date,” says one Washington-based grower-shipper.
Behind the reduced crop is of course the weather. “We had a freakish April snow/freeze combination during bloom. None of us had ever seen weather like that before,” he says, noting the lower temperatures lasted between a week to 10 days at what would historically be bloom time. “Following that, we got quite a bit of precipitation and no warm days. This week is the first hint at warm temperatures. We’ve spent a very very little amount of time above 70 degrees in the Northwest which normally we’d have several hundred hours by now.”
Not only is this affecting the overall crop size but the start date is pushed back until the middle of June when normally the region would be packing cherries already. “There’s going to be a bit of a gap in the market. We’ll have a full week where neither state is shipping cherries,” says the grower-shipper who adds that California may still have some cherries this week and that leaves that week to 10-day period before Washington gets into any real volume of cherries.
Shipping will likely go until the middle of August. “The whole state is behind so it’s spread out. June will be very light, July will be wherever the peak of availability will be and then August we’ll spend a few weeks heading towards a conclusion,” he says.
However the crop that is available looks good on quality. “Sizing is middle of the road. There will be some super large fruit sizes but as far as the bell curve goes, we’re right in the middle with 10.5-11 sizing for a large portion of the season,” he says.
But given the predicted yields, harvest may be counter weighted against costs. “With the high labor costs, does it and increased cost inputs such as fuel and packaging supplies, merit us to go in and pick one to two tons per acre? Will be price structure support that? That’s still an uncertainty,” says the grower-shipper.
What is certain is that stronger pricing is on the way factoring in those higher costs and lower yields. He notes it will be difficult to balance the right pricing at retail. Nobody wants higher prices to discourage consumers, though another factor in that equation is the limited season North American cherries have and its position as a consumer favorite.
Looking ahead though, what’s the bigger picture for North American cherries? “We’ve had three seasons in a row, each with a unique set of challenges few of us have seen before. Last year it was 118-degree heat in early July and this year is the topper with freezing temperatures in April. The two extremes are hard to defend against,” he says.
However along with evolving growing practices, varieties are developing too and moving towards more resilient options and more fertile, self-pollinating choices. “It’s evolving. But Mother Nature needs to give us a break one of these years and give us a full crop,” says the grower-shipper.
Yet, despite the challenges, there’s still optimism for the season. “We’re looking forward to providing something different. It’s one of the most vibrant items in the produce department that everyone looks forward to seasonally,” he adds.
Growers in British Columbia, Canada, will start harvest about 10 days later than usual, around July 10 instead of the normal July 1 date. Volume will be light at first, but will ramp up at the end of July. The later start is caused by cool weather during spring, which delayed bloom. It didn’t adversely affect the crop, as it did in other regions in North America, but it did delay maturity. The harvest is expected to continue until September 8-10.
The province expects a crop size that is about 75% of what they had initially projected. So, a smaller crop than expected, but the fruit is sizing up nicely. Last year, volumes were high, but the size was small. This year, the crop is forecast to be smaller, but the fruit size is expected to be bigger. It will be healthy for the market to start harvest late because it means there will be less overlap with Washington State. The majority of BC’s cherry crop will hit the market in August and September and during that time, there will be no competition left in the market. Although harvest for BC is still far out, the industry is cautiously optimistic. It is perfect cherry weather at the moment with temperatures between 20 and 24°C. Strong demand is expected, also from export markets. As a result, the province expects to ship more overseas this year than last year. In addition to Canada and the US, main markets for BC cherries are Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Chile: Bittersweet results for Chilean cherries
Chile is by far the world's largest exporter of cherries as evidenced by export figures. Exports have experienced rapid growth in the last decade; In 2010, official data reported the shipment of just over 44,000 tons, in 2015 83,400 tons were exported and this campaign, according to statistics, Chile has sent a total of 356,385 tons to international markets.
This figure represents a new record for shipments, increasing by 1.11% compared to the quantity sold in the 2020/21 campaign, in a season in which, however, the industry has faced serious problems derived from the emergence of the Omicron variant in China and the congestion and logistical delays, which caused a considerable amount of cherries - estimated at 40% between the fruit that had arrived at the port and was yet to arrive - to be sold after the celebration of the Chinese New Year, with the consequent impact both on the condition of the fruit and on prices. The sector has not hesitated to define this as "one of the most difficult campaigns on record".
According to data, Asia was the main destination for Chilean cherries with the acquisition of 325,477 tons, registering a slight drop of 1.52% in volumes received compared to the previous campaign, driven by lower shipments to China, which is estimated to have received around 88.1% of the cherries exported by Chile while in previous campaigns it represented 91%.
In second place was the North American market with 13,876 tons, with a notable increase of 177% in the volumes of Chilean cherries purchased, followed by Latin America with 6,504 tons (+21%), Europe with 6,254 tons (+29%) and Middle East with 274 tons (-18%).
Oceania: Good season for cherries in New Zealand and Australia
Australian and New Zealand cherries are in their off-season, with early-season varieties set to start again in October and continue until February/March. It was a good export season in New Zealand in 2021-22, at the end of the season in March it was reported that cherry exports have continued their recent year on year growth up on the previous season, with 3,219 tonnes, compared to 2,508 tonnes from 2020-21 season. The majority of supply this year went to Taiwan (1,404t), followed by China (571.5t) and Vietnam (462.5t).
In Australia, a Tasmanian cherry grower said that overall it was another good season for the company over the summer, despite an isolated weather event that did reduce volumes. "Halfway through the season we had a day and a half of heavy rain. We had about 35 millimetres in about 20 hours, and I reckon we lost around 30 tonnes. If that didn't happen, we would have had a really big year, but we still did 90 tonnes. It would have been great if that didn't happen, but with cherries and groundwater, you can't do too much about it. Aside from that, the fruit was really good. It was a mild summer, and the fruit quality was high as normal, but we lost a lot of the big stuff during that period."
Next week: Global Overview Peaches, Nectarines, Paraguayos