In this installment of the ‘Agronometrics In Charts’ series, Sarah Ilyas studies the state of the US cherry season. Each week the series looks at a different horticultural commodity, focusing on a specific origin or topic visualizing the market factors that are driving change.
California currently stands as the second-largest cherry producing state in the United States, second only to Washington. The harvest unfolds in mid-April and concludes in early to mid-June. A record-setting frigid and rainy spring in California delayed the cherry season by nearly three weeks. Once the season began, however, it became evident that it would be extremely abundant. Conditions were ideal, enabling a prodigious harvest of cherries across the state. There are usually only a few days of overlap between California’s cherry season and Washington and Oregon’s seasons. This year, there were weeks of overlap.
As the California season concluded, Washington farmers geared up for a busy season. However, an unexpected turn of events unfolded as a series of exceptionally hot days in Washington accelerated the ripening process, overlapping production with California’s harvest. By this point, the significant yield in California had already begun to exert its influence on the price dynamics, supply chain, and warehousing capacities nationwide.
Even markets in British Columbia are facing an oversupply. The British Columbia Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) calls it “an almost unheard-of situation.” Typically, the seasonal cherry harvest progresses from California to Washington State and then to BC. This year, however, the BCFGA says the presence of American cherries in BC in July is causing growers some difficult short-term market challenges.
Last year’s harvest in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah combined was about 12.5 million boxes, says Tim Kovis, Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s director of communications. This year it’s estimated to be nearly double that at 22.2 million boxes. The largest crop the WSTFA has on record is 28 million boxes in 2017, Kovis added.
In June, Cherry sales increased 71.9% over year-ago levels in pounds and 40.3% in dollars. Prices reached their lowest levels in nearly 10 years this year, at $23.75 per package. In Week 30, prices fell by 44.05% marking a $2.32 decrease on the last recorded price, from $5.26 to $2.94.
The large yield in California has caused packing companies to deviate from their usual practices and reject fruit they would typically accept. During the commencement of the harvest, packing companies establish a minimum size requirement for cherries they will accept, which generally aligns with the average cherry size. However, this year, packing companies have had to implement a series of accelerated adjustments to the minimum size criteria, necessitating increasingly larger cherries. As a result, farmers who typically produce cherries of average-to-above-average sizes are facing rejections from the packers they have relied upon in previous years. The plummeting prices are raising concerns among packing sheds. There is apprehension that failing to meet a certain percentage of packout might lead to an inability to recover the picking costs.The situation is causing notable challenges within the industry, as the abundance of cherries continues to impact the market dynamics and create uncertainties for growers.
In our ‘In Charts’ series, we work to tell some of the stories that are moving the industry. Feel free to take a look at the other articles by clicking here.
All pricing for domestic US produce represents the spot market at Shipping Point (i.e. packing house/climate controlled warehouse, etc.). For imported fruit, the pricing data represents the spot market at Port of Entry.
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Written by: Sarah Ilyas