A Northwest Cherry Growers representative is upbeat about the season that only began a few days ago, but the organization’s forecasts are well below those published recently by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The department’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) estimated 255,000 metric tons (MT) of sweet cherries would come out of Washington State, along with 60,000MT from Oregon.
The grower association’s vice president of marketing – North America, James Michael, tells Fresh Fruit Portal the industry is expecting 23.5 million boxes from both states combined.
Our estimates would put that at around 213,636 metric tons (MT); however that figure would vary depending on the distribution of dark red cherries and yellow Rainiers.
“That’s the most official estimate from the most comprehensive survey of the upcoming crop,” Michael says of the 23.5 million-box figure, based on information collected by field men.
“We will soon come out with our round three estimate…historically that’s our most accurate – last year our estimate was 20.79 million boxes and the final crop was 20.9 million boxes.
“It won’t always be dead on but historically they’re fairly accurate because they’re pulled by field men who represent about 90% of our total industry.”
He says the season officially started on June 12, and that’s a huge swing on the earlier season last year.
“Last year was the earliest start on record – we started shipping May 20, and we shipped 600,000 boxes in May which was just astronomical; it was an outlier,” he says.
He says like every year, it will take about 10 days for the season’s “engine to get going”, but conditions have been positive for a good crop and extended campaign.
“One thing I could say from years in agriculture is that when you have a long, slow spring that allows extra hang time to develop flavor and sugars,” he says.
“We’re getting rolling with our season and we’re expecting a great crop.
“More late season cherries will be available going into August – last year there were essentially no cherries available in August. This year there will be some promotable volume going into the final month of summer.”
He says cherries have become more prevalent with strong demand as well in domestic and export markets.
“We’re moving 20 million boxes in essentially 45 days, across 50 states and 18 countries,” he says, adding exports account for around 30% of the crop.
Additionally, he hopes more consumers will receive the health messages championed by the grower association about the anti-inflammatory properties of cherries.
“One area where we see a lot of growth is in further education on the natural anti-inflammatory message, as people look for consuming not just for flavor and for food, but for health reasons as well; for function and for use. Cherries can deliver on that,” he says.
The group provides a list of claims approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), based on a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in March, 2013.
“We work on cherry projects and research essentially 365 days a year – it’s one of those things we have to do in the background so our shippers and growers who are funding this can say cherries are naturally an anti-inflammatory,” he says.
“Retailers domestically get a bonus if they’re in the Northwest Cherry promotion program by putting some of those health claims in their ads – the caveat to that is we give them a list of the approved claims.
“As people look for more healthy foods and functions, there’s a lot of room for growth there. Now we’re looking at a 20 million-box crop being an average crop, and you go back to the turn of the century and seven million boxes was a big crop.
Photo: NW Cherry Growers, Facebook