A record Washington cherry crop is a distinct possibility this year, and shippers and officials are confident sufficient demand will be there to meet it.

Coming a year after a severely short crop, the 2009 crop could top 16 million boxes, depending on what Mother Nature has up her sleeve in the next month, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers and the Washington State Fruit Commission, both based in Yakima.

That would top the previous record of 15 million boxes, he said.

"There was a nice full bloom across the state, and it looks like it's going to be a full crop," he said. "If it picks out, it will be right there (at a record level)."

Robbin Erickson, sales manager in the Selah, Wash., office of Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., agreed.

"There are more trees in the ground than there have ever been, so the record will easily be broken with any kind of full crop, and so far this year, we're expecting a full crop," he said. "It looks like there was a very big bloom."

Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., said the 2009 Washington crop could go as high as 18 million boxes.

The only blip on the radar this summer, he said, could be a few supply gaps.

"There could be some times where it's not as big as other times, but it looks like a good crop," he said. "There will be a lot of promotable fruit. We're excited."

A very cold winter, combined with the excellent bloom, bodes well for a high-quality crop, Thurlby, Erickson and Pepperl said.

Thurlby is confident that if there is a record crop out of Washington, demand for it won't be lacking - though the industry is entering unchartered territory.

"We feel demand continues to exceed supply, and there's still plenty of room to grow," he said. "That will be put to the test this year."

With California's harvest yet to hit full swing, f.o.b. and terminal market price reports were unavailable from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 29.

Northwest harvest will likely start June 10-15, with volume shipments beginning June 20-23, 4-6 days later than usual, Thurlby said.

L&M projects a June 18 start date, with volume about June 28, Erickson said.

If the growing weather is particularly good in May, Thurlby said, shippers could get big volumes to stores in time for Fourth of July promotions.

Pepperl, however, wasn't confident that would happen.

"We see a big problem for promotions for the Fourth," he said. "But it will still be big compared to last year by far."

California volumes, meanwhile, wouldn't likely start peaking until about May 29, 4 or 5 days later than normal and too late to take advantage of Memorial Day promotions, Pepperl said.

California will likely have peak volumes through June 11-12, then wind down the 15th or 16th, just when Washington's deal begins, he said.

Thurlby projected "good continuity" this year between the end of the California crop and the beginning of the Washington crop.