If early California cherries don’t kick off on time this spring — in late April — they should be pretty close to it.

Looking ahead, some grower-shippers expect plenty of fruit for Memorial Day, May 27, while others say meeting demand for the holiday might be challenging.

Good cherry volume heads to market

Shipments from The Flavor Tree Co. LLC, Hanford, Calif., which handles sales for Warmerdam Packing LLC, should start on time, by late April or early May, said Maurice Cameron, president and global sales manager.

Growing conditions are excellent for the company’s acreage in the Arvin/Maricopa area in the southern district.

However, Cameron said the southern San Joaquin Valley took longer to accumulate good chill hours this year, so some orchards in Kern County could come off a bit later than last year.

As the deal moves north, harvesting should start on time or even earlier than normal.

David Stone, an owner of Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., Kingsburg, Calif., speaks optimistically about the coming season.

“Everyone’s got a very good set on cherries,” he said.

He saw the deal running three to four days ahead of last year.

“So far, everything is perfect,” he said April 5. “Size is good. The weather has been ideal  We’re going to have good, promotable volume for cherries.”

He did issue a word of caution, since cherries are highly susceptible to rain.

“A lot can happen between now and (the start of the season) with weather,” he said.

Delta Packing Co. of Lodi Inc., Lodi, Calif., expects to start harvesting around April 27, said general manager Paul Poutre.

“Initial quality reports from the field look like it should be a nice crop of brooks and corals,” he said.

Because of a few hot days during the bloom period, this season’s tulare crop didn’t set as well as last year’s, he added, but size and quality should be good.

Fresno, Calif.-based Trinity Fruit Sales Co. should start harvesting its cherry crop in Arvin, Calif., the first week of May, said salesman Oscar Ramirez.

He expects the company to produce a good quality crop, with a volume increase of about 25% over last year.

“The weather has been more favorable to us this season,” he said.

Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers LLC  was running a bit behind with its California cherry program, marketing director Roger Pepperl said in early April, but he expects to catch up as the season progresses.

Pepperl said he’s noticed a lot of the relatively new coral variety coming into production in California over the past three years.

Stemilt should start shipping brooks cherries around May 1-3, followed by corals about two weeks later, then tulares and garnets.

Cherry volume from Morada Produce Co, Linden, Calif., should be up by about 20% this season, thanks to the addition of growers and bearing acreage, said Larelle Miller, saleswoman.

The company expects to start harvesting some brooks by April 29 — a bit earlier than last year but about on schedule compared with other years, she said.

Overall, this year’s crop size should be average to slightly above average, she predicted.

“It’s certainly not a limb-buster.”

Cameron expects early season prices to be more moderate than last year, when a reduced crop from Kern
County resulted in high prices.

Last year, prices in mid-May for 16-pound cartons of bagged brooks and tulare cherries from the San Joaquin Valley ranged from $40-45 for 12-row size to $65-68 for 10-row size, according to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. By June 1, prices on tulares had dropped to $28-55.

Pepperl said in early April that he was being cautious about committing to Memorial Day programs, especially if the season gets off to slow start.

“Memorial Day could be challenging,” he said.

Retailers may want product for Memorial Day ads by May 13, he said. Since it could take a couple of weeks to get enough fruit off the trees, if picking doesn’t start until May 4 or 5 meeting demand could be difficult.
“We’ll see how we catch up,” he said.