Adverse weather throughout California's Central Valley over the last two months appears to have significantly impacted the state's 2018 cherry crop.
The California Cherry Board (CCB) confirmed the official estimate for the new season has been set at 4m cartons (8.2 kg), which would be a 58 per cent reduction in volume from 9.56m cartons shipped in 2017.
According to the CCB’s Will Callis, this figure could be reduced even further, pending an industry meeting scheduled for later this week.
After what had been a very mild and dry winter, problems began with a mid-February freeze that injured the very earliest fruit. Thereafter, a steady parade of storms descended on California's growing area, as the cherry crop went into bloom from south to north.
The result has been substantial damage to the early Brooks and Tulare varieties, as well as the mainstay Bing offering. Only the Coral Champaign variety appears to have weathered the elements with any degree of success.
"With all the rain and generally poor pollinating weather, I'm expecting that Coral's will out-pack Bings this year," said Mark Calder of Primavera Marketing.
Last season, the California industry shipped just under 4.4m cartons of Bings compared to 2.16m cartons of Corals. However in 2016 - another problematic weather year - Corals ended up being the leading variety at 1.38m cartons compared to 1.26m Bings.
More than four inches of rain has fallen between March and April in the Stockton area, where the majority of California's Bings are grown. This has reportedly resulted in a high incidence of dropped fruit.
"Where there were once clusters of five to eight cherries in the orchards a week ago, in many cases there is only one cherry now," noted an inspector with a major California-based exporter.
Dave Martin of Stemilt Growers said the Bing deal just didn't set as well as had been hoped.
"The question now is to what extent growers will bother picking on a very short crop,” Martin explained. “If yields are only 1 tonne per acre but the market is US$70 a carton, they probably will; if it's US$60, they likely won't."
Calder said he was concerned about not having enough labour. "If the deal is as short as it appears to be, workers will likely move on to other crops. It's not a good situation."
Initial picking in California is expected to commence with what is left of the Brooks variety this weekend, followed by Tulare's a few days thereafter. Coral Champagne should get underway by 10 May, followed by Bings in the last week of May. Bings will run well into June but with erratic volume.
Adding to the anticipated cherry shortage is the fact that the Pacific Northwest season will not be starting early this year. According to industry reports, picking for the Chelan variety should commence around 10 June, followed by Bings roughly a week later.
"With all of California's problems, the (supply) pipeline will be very dry by the time we get going up here in the Northwest," said Marc Pflugrath of CMI Orchards. "You can expect demand to be 'off the hook' and FOB's very high through much of June.”
Peak volume for Bings in the Pacific Northwest is not expected to hit until late June and could miss some of the important 4 July holiday demand period.
July appears to be stacking up as the heaviest in production, with Bings running well into the month, followed by ever increasing volumes of late varieties, such as Skeena and Sweet Hearts.
Due to the alternate bearing nature of cherries, overall production in the Pacific Northwest this season is not expected to be as heavy as a year ago when a record 26.4m cartons (9.1 kg) were shipped.