Labor concerns shadow possible cherry record

06/06/2012 04:05:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Courtesy Grant J. Hunt Co. Grant J. Hunt Co., Oakland, expected to begin shipping about June 12-14, with peak volumes hitting in about the third week of the month, said Eric Patrick, Yakima, Wash.-based marketing director. Barring a labor shortage, Washington cherry volumes should set a record this year, and grower-shippers expect plenty of demand to meet supply.

As much as 23 million boxes of cherries could ship from the Evergreen State this season, breaking the old record by about 3 million boxes, shippers said.

Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., began harvesting chelans in mid-June, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager. Queen expects an orderly transition from California to Washington this season.

“They should finish the week of the 18th or the 25th, which is just about the time we really come into volume,” he said. “It should be a pretty smooth handoff.”

Very strong California markets came off dramatically at the end of May and beginning of June, thanks to a transition from southern growing regions in the state, where volumes were light, to northern regions, where there was plenty of product, said Don Goforth, marketing director for Family Tree Farms, Reedley. Calif.

“It’s the most significant price change in a very long time, from about May 26 to about June 2,” he said.

On June 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $42-46 for 18-pound cartons of 10-row bings from California. Last year at the same time, cartons of 10-row brookses from California were $46-53.

Eric Patrick, Yakima, Wash.-based marketing director for Grant J. Hunt Co., Oakland, Calif., said there would be some overlap between California and Washington, but he’s also optimistic about a smooth transition.

Hunt expected to begin shipping about June 12-14, with peak volumes hitting in about the third week of the month, Patrick said.

The company was looking forward to big yields, great quality and big sizes, particularly on fruit shipping in July.

“We had an ideal winter and spring for growing cherries,” Patrick said.

Hunt is hoping that the big volumes this summer will be evenly spread out, unlike in past years, where gluts have developed as supplies spiked, Patrick said.

Despite the expected record crop, Domex is not worried about generating sufficient demand, Queen said.

“People are coming in, setting up long-term contracts,” he said. “Demand is just huge.”

Domex will likely encourage retailers to promote Washington cherries into August, given the big volumes, Queen said.

The only possible wrinkle this season could be labor, Queen said.

“We have concerns that we won’t have enough pickers,” he said. “We may have to leave some fruit hanging on the trees.”

Washington supplies should ramp up in time to meet all retailers’ promotional needs, regardless of geography, Patrick said.

“We should be able to hit Fourth (of July) promotions nationwide,” he said. “The last couple of years it’s been pretty tight, especially for the East Coast.”

Queen agreed.

“We expect to have plenty in the pipeline for the Fourth.”

Domex expects to ship through mid- to late August, Queen said.



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