YAKIMA – Northwest cherry growers are optimistic about the looming cherry harvest, one that is expected to be long on quality even if it falls just short of record volume.
The five states, including Washington, that make up the regional group are forecasting a crop of 20.3 million boxes for sale on the fresh market.
The record for the region is 20.4 million boxes in 2009.
Industry representatives from the five states devised the estimate during a meeting of Northwest Cherry Growers on Wednesday in Richland.
“We think we have one of those optimum crops,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherry Growers. “We had a mild winter and a perfect bloom.”
Washington is the largest producing cherry state by far with an estimated crop this year of 16.7 million boxes. The other states are Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah.
The five states shipped 18.3 million boxes last year.
But unlike 2011, the region expects to have good volumes of cherries available for the important July Fourth holiday, when retailers like to feature cherries in their advertising.
Thurlby said shippers project to have up to 5 million boxes in retail outlets for the holiday period.
Because of cool spring weather that delayed the 2011 harvest, the industry had just 2 million boxes shipped by July Fourth.
“We should get shelf space built up early. That is a big plus,” he said. “It is a nice added benefit to the overall cherry deal.”
An improving domestic economy and good demand in export markets also contribute to the optimism, he said.
“The economy is looking better than it was three years ago. People are spending more money,” according to Thurlby.
While the region focuses its efforts on the fresh market, processors are looking for cherries because of weather damage in California and the Northeast.
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