(July 17) An early start for the fresh cherry market, coupled with a late California season, should keep demand high as production enters late July into early August, shippers said.

Suzanne Wolter, director of business development for Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash., said weather and additional planting would allow the company to continue shipping cherries through August.

Rainier Fruit started its cherry deal June 6, which was about a week earlier than normal. Wolter said notable volumes didn’t hit until June 13.

She said the fruit is of good quality, size and high packout.
Prices in mid-July in the Yakima Valley and Wenatchee districts were about $35.50 for 15-pound carton rainiers. Ranging from 12 row size to 10½, 20-poind carton bings were $18.50-30.50 and lapins were $18.50-35.50.

Wolter predicted Rainier would end the season with a volume at more than 1 million 20-pound cartons, which would provide about a 35% increase compared to 2002.

According to the Washington State Fruit Commission, Yakima, shippers are expected to produce about 71,000 tons this year. The 2002 crop saw about 63,061 tons, while 2001 set an 80,299-ton record.

B.J. Thurlby, president of the commission, said that from June 10 to July 4, about 7 million cartons were sold. He said a normal high during that period has been about 4 million.

Tonnage on July 11, he said, was close to the 71,000-ton estimate, which means this season’s harvest might come close to the 2001 record.

“We’ve got another million-and-a-half boxes that haven’t been harvested yet,” he said.

Cherry varieties being harvested the second half of July include sweethearts, rainiers and lapins. As of July 15, bing volumes were declining in southern areas.

California cherry production overlapped with Washington’s for about two weeks this season, Wolter said. This brought prices down initially, but prices for Rainier Fruit, compared to peak production in late June, were 50% higher in mid-July.

An increasing price trend, Wolter said, was expected for the end of July and into August, with demand continuing to drive the market.

The initial price decrease had a more negative affect on Snokist Growers, Yakima, which is on the front end of the Northwest cherry deal, Neil Galone, vice president of sales, said. The company ended its operations July 15, shipping about 450,000 20-pound cartons for the season.

California didn’t wind down its operations in time to make a smooth market transition with Washington, Galone said. This caused high volumes and low prices.

Shippers agree, though, that this is a strong cherry season. Marketing efforts, too, have been successful, they said.

Wolter said high demand was attributable to retailers’ promotional efforts. Weekly cherry advertising is not uncommon at some stores.

“You have retailers that haven’t focused on them in the past,” she said. “And they realize they don’t have to sell them for 99 cents a pound — they can sell them for $1.99 a pound.”