Weather cuts into Northwest cherry volumes (UPDATED COVERAGE, 1:44 p.m., June 4) Mother Nature has put a dent in the Northwest cherry crop.

Grower-shippers are now expecting to ship between 16 and 17 million boxes, down from an earlier estimate of about 18 million boxes, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Yakima-based Northwest Cherry Growers.

About 23 million boxes shipped from the Northwest last year.

Early varieties like chelans and early bings were hardest hit by frost in April and heavy rains at the end of May, said said Eric Patrick, Yakima, Wash.-based marketing manager for Oakland, Calif.-based Grant J. Hunt Co.

Splitting and other issues were causing growers to decide whether to even pick some early fruit.

“I think the month of June will be pretty tight volume-wise,” he said. “Up until the Fourth (of July) we’ll kind of be fighting to fill orders.”

Growers began picking early the week of June 3, but it would be awhile before they began shipping in volume, likely June 15-20, Thurlby said.

“It will fizzle along for the first week or two,” he said.

Later varieties, however, were looking very good, Thurlby said. And he said that fruit should be on the big side this season, also a plus.

Patrick was optimistic in early June that volumes would be promotable by the holiday, and he expected promotable volumes through July.

Grant Hunt’s growers expected to begin picking the week of June 10.

The Northwest’s lighter start, combined with a quick end to the California deal, should keep markets strong through June, Patrick said.

On June 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $50-52 for 16-pound cartons of bagged California bings 10-row. Last year at the same time, 18-pound cartons sold for $42-46.

Bing losses could be up to 40% for Stemilt Growers, thanks mainly to splits caused by the heavy rain, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, Wash.

“It affected the bings more than the chelans.”

While the entire Northwest crop is expected to be 25% lower than last year, bing losses will likely be closer to 50%, Thurlby said.

The heavy bing losses will affect volumes for Fourth of July, Pepperl said. Pepperl expected promotable volumes to begin shipping closer to July 8, with a strong August expected before Stemilt winds down production about the first week of September.

Yakima-based Domex Superfresh Growers was hoping for the best following the rains, said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing.

“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that the weather looks down favorably on us over the next couple of weeks.”