WENATCHEE, Wash. — Northwest growers and shippers should take lessons from this year’s challenging cherry deal and take heart from a few bright spots.

B.J. Thurlby, president of the Northwest Cherry Growers, and Bruce Grim, manager of The Marketing Associations, reviewed the cherry and apple seasons at the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting on Dec. 7.

Washington cherry shipments surpass 2007 high point

Consumers benefited from a bountiful crop of large cherries, but growers left plenty of smaller, less-desirable fruit on the trees.

Despite a late start that pushed the bulk of the cherry crop past the peak July Fourth holiday, the industry shipped 20.5 million boxes of fruit overall, Thurlby said. July’s shipments were 61% higher than July 2007, the year with the previous record harvest.

Exports also set records, with 28% of the crop sold overseas.

“China is the new market success story,” he said.

The crop “came fast and was a challenge all across the board,” he said. “But the growers did a good job in what they put in the box.”

Two-thirds of the fruit packed hit premium sizes of 10½ row and larger.

Domestic consumption and retail ad support also provided bright spots.

“Compared to grapes and berries, we owned newspapers this summer,” Thurlby said.

Cherries were the top-advertised product for five weeks, a feat that will bring continued success in the future, he said. Secondary retail displays outside the produce department showed opportunities for sales growth, he said. A trial with one Northwest retailer showed a 22% boost in cherry sales.

This year’s apple crop started well, especially compared to the 2008 crop, Grim said. Shipments are nearly 2 million boxes above the previous year, and he said he expects prices to rise.

“We didn’t shrink (the 2008 crop) soon enough,” Grim said. “It took a while to get the price point to the place where we could move significant numbers.”

This year’s crop underwent some freeze and sunburn that may reduce the predicted 102.4 million-box harvest as packing progresses, he said.