Rain slows California cherry harvest
Mid-May rain in California is likely to damage some cherries, but marketers believe there will be plenty of promotion opportunities for all sizes through mid-June.
Brianna Shales, communications manager for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers, said May 15 the company had inventories of California cherries on hand and was packing daily.
“There is good volume and quality available right now, so we won’t know anything (more) until after the rain comes down and we can assess the damage,” she said.
Cherry growers in the Arvin, Calif., region south of Bakersfield received rain on May 13, said Maurice Cameron, sales director for The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC, Hanford, Calif.,
“Depending on the packer or the growers or some certain varieties, I think that (some) got hit pretty hard and others that did fine,” Cameron said.
Some growers will have substantial losses, but Cameron said the rain created more of a delay for Flavor Tree than it caused any substantial damage.
“Quality has been good so far,” he said.
However, he noted rain was expected in the Stockton region east of San Francisco May 15 and the Hanford region near Visalia could be hit by a storm May 16.
“It is really difficult to pinpoint when it’s going to rain, and what the damage will or won’t be,” he said. “We’re just plugging along and dealing with what Mother Nature gives us when she gives it to us,” he said.
Industry estimates put the California cherry crop between 10 million and 11 million cartons, but Cameron said mid-May rains could cause substantial losses for fruit ready to be picked within the next few days.
In order to get better fruit sizing and keep cherries on the trees and delay maturing by a few days, some growers apply gibberellic acid to the fruit. Gibberellic acid is a natural occurring plant hormone that is used as a plant growth regulator in many crops.
Cameron said one risk of use the plant growth regulator is that fruit is more susceptible to cracking if it rains.
“Gibberellic acid applications get you bigger cherries and stronger cherries (but it) is a little bit risky with it when it comes to rain,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported California f.o.b. cherry prices on May 14 were $50 to $65 per carton for 10-row cherries and $19 to $30 per carton for smaller 12-row size fruit.
Cameron said retailers are promoting all sizes of cherries.
“There is appropriate pricing for the crop size, and so there is a lot of demand from U.S. retailers,” he said. “There is a lot of orders and everybody is promoting cherries.”
The USDA national retail report showed 2,101 retailers were promoting red cherries at an average price of $4.39 per pound on May 10. That compares with 1,496 stores promoting red cherries at an average price of $4.39 per pound a year earlier.
Cameron said the fruit isn’t staying in cold storages long and is moving quickly off retail shelves.