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OPN Connect Newsletter 212 · April 8, 2021

Organic California Cherries Expected in May


Though California’s conventional fresh cherry crop is expected to produce its first fruit toward the end of April, the first organic cherries will not likely be in the marketplace until after the first week of May, with increased volume as May plays out. The entire cherry crop is running about a week to 10 days behind last year’s crop because of colder spring weather.

Though organic cherry production in California is on the rise, it still represents only a tiny percentage of the crop.

Vitalis April 2021

Paul Poutre, sales manager for Delta Packing Company, Lodi, CA, said in past years, California’s organic cherry production has only represented about 1 percent of the total volume. This year’s total crop is expected to be a good one, approaching nine million cartons, which would be about 20 percent larger than last year.

Though organic cherry production in California is on the rise, it still represents only a tiny percentage of the crop.

So even if organic production remains at 1 percent, it would mean more fruit, but there are indications that the organic volume is gaining some tra­­­ction. Poutre said organic volume is slowly increasing as it offers good returns for growers. He noted that while producing an organic crop is more costly than growing conventional cherries, yield per acre is comparable, and organic cherries return a significant premium in the marketplace.

Wish Farms April 2021

The Delta Packing executive also predicted that if all goes according to plan—which means a sizable crop with no adverse weather as the harvest season approaches—there should be promotable volume of organic cherries. Poutre said Delta would pack its first organic cherries on May 15 and would have promotable volume from May 20 to May 31. He said Delta controls almost 50 percent of California’s organic cherry production.

Mike Jameson, Director of Sales and Marketing, Morada Produce Company 

Mike Jameson, director of sales and marketing for Morada Produce Company, Lodi, CA, said his firm is also a player in California’s organic cherry production deal and is looking to increase that production with new blocks coming on every year. He said more and more, retailers are asking for organic cherries and Morada is committed to developing its organic program.

Starr Ranch April 2021

While it takes three years to transition an orchard from conventional to organic production, organic cherry tree acreage is increasing slowly from year to year. Jameson said a limiting factor is the spotted wing drosophila, an insect that can devastate a cherry orchard. The insect loves soft flesh fruit such as cherries, blackberries, and stone fruit. 

Damage from a spotted wing drosophila pest

Both Jameson and Poutre were cautious about predicting the size and status of this year’s cherry crop in early April. Cherries, organic and conventional, are a crop with a relatively short time frame between bloom and production. At both ends of that timeline, bad weather, including wind and rain, can have a huge impact on the size of the crops.

Heliae April 2021

Unfortunately, virtually every grower remembers several bad years when a great-looking crop was devastated by March rain during the bloom or May rain at harvest time. Jameson said the 2020/21 winter produced sufficient chill hours to create strong trees, and those trees got through the bloom at the end of March with what appeared to be a good crop. That is two-thirds of the ball game, but the late innings are also very important.

While it takes three years to transition an orchard from conventional to organic production, organic cherry tree acreage is increasing slowly from year to year.

“We believe we have a very good crop,” Jameson said. “If we can avoid the rain at the wrong time, this could be a very good year.”

NatureSafe April 2021

As mentioned, growers are cautiously optimistic that this year's total production will head towards nine million cartons, which would be a very favorable outcome compared to the five-year average of around 6.1 million cartons.

For organic cherry buyers, the California cherry season just whets their appetite as a far greater percentage organic cherries comes from the Northwest, which should begin shipping sometime in June.

Shenandoah April 2021

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