Warm, sunny weather has cherry growers relieved.
“We’ve had, what now, almost 13 days without rain,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Northwest Cherry Growers. “Wow.”
Cherry orchardists in the Yakima Valley and surrounding areas have been picking and shipping nearly 300,000 boxes of cherries a day the past two weeks, finally approaching a sense of normalcy after wacky weather during May and June wiped out about 22 percent of the crop, the biggest loss since 2010.
Industry experts now predict a total 2013 harvest of 14.2 million boxes, down from 18.3 million predicted at the start of the season on May 15.
“Finally it feels like we’ve got some cherry growing weather,” Thurlby said.
And the fruit has been firm the past two weeks, appealing to overseas buyers. Northwest cherry growers export about 30 percent of their fruit, valued at $382 million last year.
Relief may be short lived, however. Forecasts call for a 20 percent chance of showers today, jumping to 40 percent tonight with the possibility of hail and gusty winds, according to the National Weather Service.
“We’re going to hold our breath and hopefully it’s not too bad,” Thurlby said.
But the last two weeks have been a much-needed break after the cherry season’s rough start.
Rain and wind in the early spring limited pollination and therefore cut down the size of the crop. Unseasonably warm temperatures in the first half of May hastened ripening, leaving cherries even more vulnerable to rain during the second half of May and much of June.
Shower after shower soaked the ripening cherries, causing many to split. Some of the survivors ended up softer than normal, causing many overseas buyers to either turn up their noses or negotiate price reductions in June.
Oddly, the Yakima Valley growers dealt with a lot of rain last year, too, but showers were less incessant, allowing fruit to dry out and remain firmer, Thurlby said.
Average temperatures so far this month been roughly 10 degrees higher compared to June, according to Washington State University’s Ag Weather Net.
Rain this month has been negligible in contrast to last month, when some areas received up to 1½ inches.
Growers have now mostly finished picking Bing cherries, the Valley’s most common variety, and have switched to the later-maturing Sweethearts and Skeenas.
Prices for Yakima Valley cherries ran $34-$50 per box depending on variety, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Market News Report.
“Demand is good,” wrote Jeff Main, the market reporter. “Market about steady.”
• Ross Courtney can be reached at 509-930-8798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.