YAKIMA - A few years ago, a 20-million-box cherry crop was a record.
These days it’s the standard.
Barring widespread heavy rain or other disasters, Northwest cherry growers expect to hit the 20-million-box mark during the upcoming harvest, according to the first forecast from Northwest Cherry Growers, a Yakima-based organization that promotes cherries grown in a five-state region.
The organization expects growers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah to harvest about 20.7 million 20-pound boxes this season. The organization also predicted that because of the consistently warm weather, harvest in some areas, including Mattawa and the Tri-Cities, could start as early as May 23. That’s about the same as last year, but about a week earlier than usual.
A crop of 20 million boxes was once considered staggering, but now such volumes are manageable thanks to industry investments, including packers and shippers, said James Michael, Northwest Cherry Growers’ vice president of marketing for North America.
“We’re able to handle a 20 million (box) crop much quicker and easier with a bigger return for the grower,” he said.
The estimated figure is well-below the record 23.2 million boxes harvested back in 2014, but still more than the 19 million boxes picked in 2015.
This is the first of up to four estimates for the crop. Two more estimates are expected this month.
The organization also predicted that about ?11.3 million boxes – or ?55 percent of the estimated crop – are expected to be shipped in June, with another 8.9 million boxes to be shipped in July. About 200,000 boxes each are expected to be shipped in May and August.
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