2015 Cherry Crop Light But Sweet

An unusually early cherry harvest this year features quality over quantity, according to growers.

“My quantity was lower but my quality was much higher this year,” Independent Grower Dan Getman said. “The size was nice and taste is just exquisite.”

Rather than a crop defined only by a stretch of record-breaking heat, Getman noted an early freeze that hit last November damaged trees, leading to fewer cherries this spring.

But with less fruit, cherry trees were able to put more energy into the buds that remained, explained Ken Edgington.

“Maybe Mother Nature did us a little bit of a favor with that freeze,” Edgington said. “What you don’t want is an over saturation of cherries that don’t get enough nutrition before the harvest.”

Edgington said the harvest is about seven to 12 days earlier than last year, and the heat was a factor.

Washington and Oregon cherry orchards faced the same freeze, coupled with an even warmer spring and summer. Those states don’t have the cool nights according to Edgington, which drives harvesters in those regions to pull crops off the trees before the cherries become sunburned.

The light crop has kept cherries in high demand.

The market gap will be hard to fill for growers who have seen lower harvest numbers this year.

Marilyn Bowman of Bowman Orchards said crews have been picking cherries earlier than they ever have before. The cold from last fall coupled with extreme heat left her unsure of when harvest will reach completion.

“Things are abnormal this year,” Bowman said. “It’s hard to say how long we’ll go. But the cherries look good, there’s just going to be less of them this year.”

Some orchards saw the opposite effect, however. Dick Beighle said it’s all about location. Rocks in the ground kept the earth warmer during the abrupt cold snap last fall, and the water regulates the temperature differently than in the spring.

“We’ve been so fortunate. Our crop is up about 50 percent from last year,” Beighle said, counting about 13,000 pounds in his harvest.

Other orchards have been less fortunate. Some produced no crop at all, while a few orchards even lost trees to the November freeze that arrived before the trees went dormant for the winter.

While the commercial harvest should conclude by the end of July, cherries to be sold locally will be available for public picking through August, Edgington said.

Growers such as Getman don’t fear another freeze or warm year; he’s planting grapes and pears to complement his crops in future years.

“I’m a farmer and farmers adapt,” he said. “My truth is just adapting to the changes as a way to survive.”

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