YAKIMA, Wash. — Northwest cherry growers surpassed 700,000 boxes shipped in one day for the first time and have enjoyed an excellent first half of the season.
A daily shipment peak of 712,486, 20-pound boxes was reached on June 25, and the week averaged 604,000 boxes per day before accelerating to 708,000 boxes June 29, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima, the industry promotional organization.
It was a strong week needed for heavy Fourth of July holiday sales.
“To everyone’s benefit, the relatively stable weather has kept our cherries in the sweet zone. The dessert quality of a bag of Northwest cherries is unparalleled right now,” he said.
“There’s great fruit size. Bings are eating well. We may have a 90-day harvest spread, which allows controlled sales. The front third to half of this crop will do really well,” said Bruce Grim, manager of the Northwest Cherry Marketing Association in Wenatchee.
The preliminary June total is 11.3 million boxes, making it the third-highest behind the record 12.3 million in June of 2016, Thurlby said.
The industry has crossed 600,000 boxes a day several times per year in the last several years and set a record 36 days of shipping over 500,000 boxes per day last season.
So far this year, daily shipments have exceeded 500,000 boxes for 17 days but that likely is ending now with a lull between the front and back half of the crop, Thurlby said.
A second peak of more than 600,000 boxes is expected about July 15, he said. The front end of the crop was slightly early and the back half is slightly late, he said.
Of the 11.3 million boxes shipped so far, 1.5 million are Rainier. Thurlby expects Rainier to finish at 2 million. Rainier is delicate and has had some wind damage, he said.
Skeena was picking in Mattawa on July 3 and Bing in Naches Heights, upriver from Yakima, and Malaga south of Wenatchee.
“Sales managers are saying no orders are being rejected to speak of and retailers are saying cherries are selling well with repeat sales, which is everything,” Thurlby said.
Warmer weather in the Midwest and East Coast are helping sales because it leads to more picnics and barbecues for which people tend to buy cherries, he said.
“Overall prices have been strong,” he said. “I like the feel of it, looking into the back half and I didn’t say that at this time last year.”
A July glut sank prices a year ago. It was a record 26.4-million-box crop. This year’s crop is expected to finish in August at 23 million boxes.
The industry had sold 341,499 boxes to China as of June 26 compared with 249,432 at the same point a year ago, Thurlby said.
That is expected to slow because of China’s retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. that as of July 6 brings the total China tariff and entry tax on U.S. cherries, apples and pears to 50 percent.