I’ve used the term “stemless cherry” a few times in my reporting over the last few weeks. I just learned the other day it’s not quite what it sounds like.
Stemless cherries are indeed cherries without stems, but they don’t grow that way. (It all makes so much more sense now.)
Here’s how they work.
Typically, harvesters pluck the cherry — stem and all — to prevent damage. Removing the stem from the fruit — known as abscission — can bruise or rip the skin.
Since 2009, a team of researchers at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser has been looking for ways to make harvest less labor intensive.
One of those ways may be to pick just the cherries, leaving stems on the tree, said Matt Whiting, an associate professor of horticulture who leads the team.
Through their research, they’ve learned the Skeena variety allows that approach with relatively little abscission damage. Some packers have experimented. Expect to see a few stemless Skeenas on store shelves this year, Whiting said.
Work with stemless cherries at WSU-Prosser has become somewhat of a poster child for research made possible by funding from the Farm Bill’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
Researchers also plan to start cross-breeding in their experimental blocks to come up with varieties that work even better stemfree.
Eventually, they hope stemless cherries will pave the way for mechanical harvesting, one of the Holy Grails of the industrial cherry industry.
They have prototypes of a mechanical harvester, and now just need a commercial manufacturer to market it.
“Now we feel like it’s up to the industry,” Whiting said.
• Read earlier entries on the Crop Lines blog.