HANFORD, Calif. — The organic segment of the California cherry deal remains a bit player, but there are signs that grower-shippers are anticipating greater demand.

Flavor Tree Fruit Co. expects to harvest 160 acres of organic cherries this season, said Maurice Cameron, president.

“This is an aggressive planting and should be big on the early end of the deal,” he said.

All of Flavor Tree’s organic orchards are in the central growing district in and around Hanford.

“We’ll start with our proprietary Sequoias, followed by tulares, and then go to our proprietary Yosemites,” Cameron said.

The company’s organic season will wrap up with rainiers, he said.

Another believer in the organic consumer market is Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., which has cherry acreage in California.

“We upgraded our post-harvest cooling for organics,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director,

“And we’ve added line capacity for clamshells.”

Stemilt’s early season offerings will include organic and conventional brooks, garnets and corals, Pepperl said.

A reason why some grower-shippers steer clear of organic cherry orchards is that it is not easy to grow organic fruit, said Jim Culbertson, executive manager of the California Cherry Advisory Board, Lodi.

A big hurdle, he said, is weed suppression.

“There are not many organic materials available to fight the weeds,” he said.

The number of organic grower-shippers remains “fairly small, but the number has been growing over time,” Culbertson said.