Cherry Volume Down but Prices Good in 2018

The volume of cherries is down this year due to cold spring weather that kept bees from coming out of their hives and pollinating flowers, but orchardists still expect a good return in the marketplace.

“Our crop is lighter than last year, but we expect to do alright financially unless we get a rain storm, or there is a problem with trade,” said Ken Polehn, a cherry grower who is president of the Wasco County Farm Bureau.

He said harvest will start about June 8 in Dallesport where temperatures are warmer. Higher elevations will start picking a week or two later.

“Harvest lasts about six weeks after it starts,” said Polehn.

He said Wasco County has the highest density of cherry acreage in Oregon, so a significant amount of fruit is shipped globally from the area.

“We are the Napa Valley for cherries,” he said, referencing the high volume of wine grapes from that area in California.

Polehn said last year was financially devastating for cherry farmers because supply far exceeded demand, so there was no market for anything but the best fruit.

“I’ve been in business for 50 years, and last year was the worst year I can remember,” he said.

According to Polehn, California is now harvesting cherries but has less than half the yield of 2017.

Because demand is exceeding supply, he said fruit coming out of the Golden State is selling well and he doesn’t expect the market to change, unless the trade dispute between China and the United States deepens.

The White House said Tuesday that the U.S. was proceeding with tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, with a target date of June 15 to unveil the final list of goods subjected to new import taxes.

The U.S. will also announce restrictions on Chinese investments into America’s tech firms by June 30.

President Donald Trump alleges that China’s practice of forcing U.S. firms to partner with its companies to do business in the country allows it to steal technology. He said the Chinese government and affiliated companies then use the stolen data to boost their domestic firms.

“We have a lot of things to worry about at the state and federal levels as far as regulations and trade, but we just keep working and hoping things work out,” said Polehn.

California and Northwest crops are estimated to drop by a collective 8 to 10 million cartons compared to a year ago, which industry experts believe could ward off a potential loss of demand from China.

Northwest Cherry Growers, a Yakima-based group, recently reported that China purchased about 3 million boxes of Northwest cherries, or about 13 percent of the total crop. If that market is compromised in 2018, agriculture economists are hopeful there will be enough demand on the domestic front to absorb the loss. The first industry estimate of Northwest cherries was for 22.67 million 20-pound cartons, down double digits from a year ago. The estimate was made using field assessments, historical data, growing degree day patterns, crop expansion and average processing tonnage.

Polehn said local farmers are expecting an adequate labor force, based on the number of pickers who are working in California. Last year, cherry growers were concerned that the dispute between Democrats and Republicans over immigration reform would keep migrants from Mexico away, but that did not happen.

Polehn said many small farms are folding operations into bigger producers because the owners have grown weary of trying to comply with an ever-increasing regulatory burden and a volatile market. “It’s tough times,” he said.

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