(March 28) Buyers should have plenty of California cherries to pick from this season.

California cherries should be available in produce departments as early as May 1, and high quality and large volumes are expected throughout the season, said Maurice Cameron, sales manager for Trinity Fruit Sales Co., Fresno, Calif.

It’s quite a change from the 2006 season, which saw heavy rainfall slice volumes, Cameron said.

“Last year was kind of an anomaly — so many factors hit us. We didn’t see any cherries until late May,” Cameron said. “We’re looking forward to having a normal year. Decent numbers should be available in early May.”

After a significantly lighter crop in 2006 and plenty of chill hours this winter, California cherries, particularly the early sequoias — a proprietary variety — brooks and tulares from the southern district will be ready, Cameron said.

Volumes are up on all varieties and select ones, like the sequoia and rainier, have the potential to yield 2-3 times as much as last season. In fact, there’s a 1½-million to 2-million box potential out of southern Fresno County for the early varieties, compared to last year’s 600,000-box industry total, Cameron said.

Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc., expects increased volumes for the entire California industry, due to trees setting well, minimal rain and good chill hours in all growing regions, he said.

“We’ve been blessed with good weather this year, which is one thing we’re grateful for,” Pepperl said. “It usually results in good-quality cherries, and barring rain, we’re anticipating having a real nice crop.”

Early varieties represent about half of Trinity Fruit’s production, and sequoia harvests are expected to begin around April 25 in Kern County, followed by brooks and tulares, with production peaking around May 13, Cameron said.

The next variety out of the gates is the rainier, and retailers should expect high-quality rainiers to promote by mid-May, as more blocks come into production, Cameron said.

“We’re very excited about the rainier program,” he said. “With new farming techniques, we’re able to get better color, sweetness and full size.”

Expect to see the southern region continue yielding higher numbers, particularly rainiers, in the upcoming years and younger trees come into production, Pepperl said of the early varieties, which account for 30% of Stemilt’s business.

Early varieties are predicted to wrap up May 20-22, weather permitting, Cameron said.