Agronometrics in Charts: A Late But Promising Start Expected for California Cherries

By Agronometrics | 25 April 2023

In this installment of the ‘Agronometrics In Charts’ series, Sarah Ilyas studies the state of the California 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 cherries happen to be the first cherries of the season which is why they are so eagerly anticipated around the world. The short California cherry season begins in mid-May and typically lasts until early June. Among major commercially-grown fruits, cherries are known to be the last trees to bloom and the first to harvest each year. 

“The outlook for this season is good–we’re optimistic the crop will be above average,” Between May and June, over 9 million 18-pound packages of cherries are harvested in California. They are produced by 600 producers and packaged by 22 operations in central California’s growing regions. Approximately 40,000 acres of cherry orchards produce around fifty distinct cherry varieties. The vast majority is sold on the fresh market, with a small amount going to other uses like drying, juicing and freezing. About 60 percent of the California cherry crop is sold in domestic marketing channels and 40 percent are exported to markets around the worldsays Nick Lucich of Delta Packing Co, noting that the 10-year average is 6.2 million boxes of cherries.

Last year saw an earlier start to the season following a dry, warm January. This year’s prospective start on April 25 would be five to seven days later.

cherry volumes by histor 1 1

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

In recent weeks, torrential rain and snow drenched California, adding to an already damp winter season. The quantity of precipitation helped replenish the soil, which has been beneficial for the orchards. California’s water storage projects, which consist of a network of reservoirs and ground water banks, have also accumulated storage for future use.

“We’re looking toward a great domestic season from California, up through Oregon and ending in British Columbia,” said Jon Bailey, lead of Oppy’s cherry category. With harvest running about two weeks late, Bailey said Oppy anticipates a California cherry start date around the second week of May, with peak volumes between May 20 to June 10. Bing and coral are important varieties for the marketer, he said.

While Washington always overlaps with the California crop usually by about a week, it may overlap around mid-June this year. As for demand, Lucich notes that a lot of early summer fruits that compete for space on the retail shelf with cherries are light –stone fruit is lighter, strawberries and blueberries are witnessing challenges and watermelons may come in later. Adding to that a possibility of a later Washington season means possibly more demand for California cherries.

cherry volumes by origin 1 1

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Prices in the past few weeks had been trending low owing to larger incoming volumes from Chile. As the Chilean season has winded down, prices in the upcoming weeks could climb slightly. “If we do hit an above-average crop for the state, pricing, in general, will be more aggressive than last year which was 50 percent of a crop. Last year, prices needed to remain higher to keep growers picking for the lower yields,” says Lucich. “This year pricing will start out high but will get to a more realistic level to get retail moving. By the time Memorial promotions hit, there’ll be enough supply to justify good retail prices.” The challenge, according to Lucich, will be to set cherry pricing that factors in inflation on both sides of the equation – for growers, with those increased costs and for consumers with notably tighter wallets this year.

cherry prices by history 2

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Cherry trees require a certain amount of time spent dormant in cool temperatures to be able to develop flowers and fruit. However, global warming has shortened the chill period and caused an increase in winter temperatures, wreaking havoc on cherry crops worldwide. The introduction of novel low-chill cherry varieties is regarded as a crucial step in the industry’s adaptation to changing weather patterns.

Apart from developing heat-resistant cherry varieties, low-chill cultivars open the door for cherry breeders and growers in non-traditional planting areas, which should allow for improved production in warmer regions such as Southern California, according to IFG.

“The aim of a low chill cherry program is to go early and low chill, which means the fruit will require fewer chill hours during the course of a winter,” explained Alwyn van Jaarsveld, IFG’s international commercial cherry manager. He highlighted that by advancing the ripening period, cherry lovers will be able to enjoy the fruit ahead of the usual start of the season.

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.

You can keep track of the markets daily through Agronometrics, a data visualization tool built to help the industry make sense of the huge amounts of data that professionals need to access to make informed decisions. If you found the information and the charts from this article useful, feel free to visit us at www.agronometrics.com where you can easily access these same graphs, or explore the other 21 commodities we currently track.


Written by: Sarah Ilyas

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