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Cherries on boom track

Wasco County’s cherry harvest is expected to continue going well into early August — barring unforeseen weather conditions or unexpected changes in the marketplace.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. We had a fantastic June and there are many things that could go wrong in July but, right now, things are looking good,” said Gip Redman, vice-president of field services for Oregon Cherry Growers.

“The quality is very good this year and we are getting a lot of positive reviews from people.”

He said this week’s hot temperatures have not been good for crops because trees hold onto water to stay alive and cherries are deprived of moisture.

“The perfect weather is the mid-80s because the tree can rest when it gets cool in the evening and the fruit ripens more slowly,” said Redman.

He said last week’s rains did minimal damage to area orchards, although there were some losses in susceptible Bing, Skeena and Sweetheart species.

When cherries are ripe and ready to pick, rain can cause the fruit to take in too much moisture, swell and split, making the crop hard to sell.

With the recent rains mostly occurring at night and accompanied by wind to dry the cherries off, Redman said only a few percentage points of the overall crop were damaged. He said Washington, which markets its fruit at the same time as Oregon, had more losses from rain.

“Fortunately, we didn’t really sustain that much damage in The Dalles,” he said.

Hot and dry weather caused California’s billion dollar cherry industry to see its worst crop in 15 years. The losses in that state, said Redman, mean that cherries grown in the Northwest will have an expanded market, bringing more profits to growers.

“We’re running a little early this year (harvest began June 9) and, with the situation in California, we have set a record for the number of boxes shipped [to the marketplace],” he said. “It’s good to have the market season stretched out to avoid having too much fruit dumped at one time, which suppresses the price.”

Redman said harvest of Bing — the most commercially grown variety — Benton, Rainier, Tieton, Santina, and Royal Ann is winding down. Still to pick are Lapin, Chelan, Kordia and Skeena.

“This year is looking very promising at this point in time,” he said. “And happy growers make great friends.”

He said hail or thunderstorms in July could cause problems with harvest but he is keeping his fingers crossed for stable weather conditions.

Oregon Cherry Growers is headquartered in Salem.

Brine cherries go to the downtown Madison Street processing plant in The Dalles, while freeze pool cherries go to the plant on Bargeway Road. Fresh cherries are processed in Wapato, where Oregon Cherry Growers is half-owner of Pacific Coast Cherry Packers.

Sweet cherries top the list of agricultural commodities in Wasco County and make up 51 percent of sales, or $55.2 million per year.

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