March weather results in later start for California cherries

From Fresh Plaza | 18 April 2023

Overview of cherries from California in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on April 17, 2023. 

Following March’s unsettled weather in California, what does this mean for the state’s cherry season? “The outlook is good–we’re optimistic the crop will be above average,” says Nick Lucich of Delta Packing Co, noting that the 10-year average is 6.2 million boxes of cherries.

The rains and more in March did have growers wondering about the bloom for the cherry orchards: Were cherries pollinated? Would bees be able to work? Was it warm enough? “Right now it’s showing that the crop has set and there were enough windows of opportunities and the weather was fair enough for them to pollinate. There’s a crop out there,” says Lucich.

He does note that it’s most likely not a record crop given the spottiness on some orchards–some orchards look like it might not have been in a good bloom window while others not that far away look fine. “We were a bit nervous over whether it would set or not and we’re pleased to see what we’re seeing out there,” he says. In the northern part of the state including Stockton, Linden, Lodi and more, much of this crop is still to be determined but early signs show what looks to be a good set.

As for timing, a long winter and a slow emerging from winter are keeping the crop delayed. “It’s not a bad thing. The crop isn’t in detriment because of this lateness. We’re maybe seeing extended bloom times–usually, it’s quicker. So we know the crop is getting pollinated but how much?” Lucich says.

cherry volumes by histor 2

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

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In the last few years, the majority of the California cherry crop is harvested and packed in May and then as June comes along, the last third is packed. “This year may be flip-flopped with a third packed in May and the rest in June. That’s a significant change,” he says. That means while there’s fruit available for Memorial Day promotions, there also will be promotional opportunities after the long weekend. “A lot of times by June retailers may start looking at Washington, but this year we’ll be hitting our peak come June 1st as a state, and should provide the best opportunities for cherry sales,” he says.

Washington too looks to be trending later because of cooler temperatures. While it always overlaps with the California crop, usually by about a week, it may overlap around mid-June this year.

As for demand, the weather may also mean better demand for cherries this year. Lucich notes that a lot of early summer fruits that compete for space on the retail shelf with cherries are light or hurt–stone fruit is lighter, strawberries and blueberries are seeing challenges and watermelons may be later. Add to that a possibly later Washington season means possibly more demand for California cherries.

How about pricing? “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,” he says. “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 News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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