Northwest U.S. cherries won’t be late to the July 4 party celebration.

“That (availability) is the No. 1 issue,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Wenatchee, Wash.-based Northwest Cherry Growers. “There will be plenty of cherries before the Fourth.”

The first cherries for The Oppenheimer Group are anticipated by June 10, said David Smith, vice president of sales for the  Vancouver, British Columbia company.

Smith said Oppenheimer — which markets Oregon cherries exclusively — will offer cherries until the second week of August.

“There will be enough cherries out there for retailers to have the confidence to get large-sized, high-quality cherries to the consumer,” he said.

In fact, retailers will likely find significant promotion opportunities before Independence Day weekend, said Suzanne Wolter, marketing director for Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash.

Rainier will likely have fruit the first week of June, she said.

While growers hold their breath on the weather right up until harvest — always hoping to avoid frost in April and hail in May — Wolter said generally warm weather early in the growing season led to quicker bloom development and a longer selling season this year, she said.

Northwest growing regions had the fourth warmest January, February and March in the past 15 years, Thurlby said.

The weather has been so optimal that the industry expects a full crop of cherries, though smaller than the record 20.4 million boxes shipped last year.

The 2010 Northwest cherry crop could tally up to 18 million cartons, which is 2 million packed boxes less than last year and 8 million boxes short of last year’s on-tree cherry crop, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers Inc.

“In general, the crop is probably 10 days earlier this season,” he said.

Most unofficial trade estimates place the Northwest cherry crop at 16 million to 18 million boxes of dark sweet cherries, while the rainier variety should equal about 1.7 million boxes.

Rainiers may come out a bit shorter than early estimates, said Joan Tabak, sales manager for Fridley, Minn.-based Roland Marketing, marketer of Green Giant-branded cherries from Washington and Oregon.

Northwest cherry marketers will be able to deliver a good volume of large-sized cherries to the marketplace, he said.

Cherry size may peak on 10 row, said Keith Horder, director of business development for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.

Last season’s crop was late and overset with fruit. This year, growers pruned heavily and secured larger fruit for this season’s harvest, marketers said.

“We should be in really great shape for a great season,” said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash.

Queen said he expects the first peak of volume for Northwest cherries by June 20, providing plenty of lead time for July 4 ads.

“Growers have a chance to get some money back,” Pepperl said.

Retailers also will have plenty of promotional opportunities, Pepperl said.

He speculated that retail ad prices for dark sweet cherries could range from $1.99-2.99 for most promotions, with some niche deals from $3.99-5.99 per pound, depending on cherry size.

Northwest marketers expect the crop of Northwest cherries, which is smaller than last year’s, to find a longer selling window. 

And fruit size should be stronger than last season.

The bloom period for the Northwest cherry crop was expanded compared with last year, said Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, Wash.

Last year, on average, the earliest bloom was about April 12 and the latest bloom was May 1. Most of the 2009 cherries from the Northwest came off in 74 days.

This year, the longer bloom period will leave a larger marketing window for the crop. The harvest window could stretch closer to 91 days than 75 days, Riggan said.

Another boost to the market is the likelihood of larger fruit favored by retailers.

After poor market conditions left some smaller fruit on the trees last season, growers have been pruning fairly heavily to produce larger fruit this year, said Eric Patrick, Yakima, Wash.-based marketing director for the Grant J. Hunt Co.

“Growers have been pushing to make sure the trees offer the best fruit possible,” he said. That should be good for the size and quality of the crop.

A bigger marketing window and improved size should create plenty of strong selling opportunities from June through mid-August, with limited volumes available even later.

Marketers believe this year should be a rebound year for everyone.

“Last year was a little sad for everybody on different levels,” Tabak said. “We need a good cherry year for everyone, where everyone wins again.”