Planning to have a bowl of juicy red Yakima Valley cherries on your Memorial Day menu?
Sorry, but you might have to look elsewhere for the fruit: This year’s Northwest cherry harvest won’t start until the middle of next month.
That’s in sharp contrast to last year when harvest started in late May.
Cooler temperatures have pushed back harvest by several weeks, said James Michael, who oversees domestic promotions for Northwest Cherry Growers, which represents growers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana.
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While there’s a longer wait, once the region’s cherries arrive, there will be more than ample opportunity for consumers to get their fix.
“From a consumer standpoint, they'll have plenty of cherries available for the Fourth of July,” he said.
And for much of the summer months. Current industry estimates put this year’s crop at 22.7 million 20-pound boxes, which would be an 8 percent increase from last year.
In addition, because of greatly varied weather conditions in the Northwest’s cherry growing areas – trees in northern Washington, for example, had snow on them earlier this month – industry officials anticipate a long harvest lasting from 90 to 100 days.
That means consumers nationwide will be able to buy Northwest cherries well into August. Last season, the number of boxes packed and shipped peaked in late June and then dropped dramatically by early July.
There will also be more of the sweet tasting Rainier cherries: A yield of 2 million 15-pound boxes is expected this season, which would be a 20 percent bump from last year.
But it’s not just about volume – the cherries are going to taste good too, said Grandview-based grower Don Olmstead.
Olmstead said that his trees haven’t been too heavy. Too much fruit on a tree can impact the size and flavor of the cherry.
“It looks like we’re heading for a nice quality crop,” he said.
Of course, there is still some three weeks until harvest starts, and weather conditions can adversely affect the crop. A major rainstorm close to harvest could spilt and ruin a lot of cherries.
But for now, the weather has been cooperative and most growers are optimistic for a good season.
In the meantime, Michael, of Northwest Cherry Growers, doesn’t mind if customers opt for California cherries – for now.
When California is done for the season, Northwest cherries will be ready to fill the void, including for the Fourth of July, he said.
“Some leftover California cherries will ensure that consumers will still be thinking cherries for the holiday,” he said.