Sweetheart overtakes Bing as popular cherry variety
Published: January 20, 2016 9:06AM
Dan Wheat/Capital Press Ana Capi picks Rainier cherries at Prey Orchard in Orondo, Wash., last June 18. Demand for cherries was strong last season. Growing, packing and marketing cherries was discussed at Washington State University’s Northcentral Stone Fruit Day in Wenatchee on Jan. 19.
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Cherry varieties, disease and pest problems were talked about at the annual Washington State University Northcentral Washington Stone Fruit Day.
WENATCHEE, Wash. — Sweetheart has overtaken Bing.
That’s what several hundred growers heard at the Northcentral Washington Stone Fruit Day, sponsored by Washington State University Extension and the Washington State Fruit Commission, at the Wenatchee Convention Center on Jan. 19.
Sweetheart, a late variety red cherry originating in Summerland, B.C., in 1994, overtook Bing in Pacific Northwest production in 2015 or perhaps in 2014, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the State Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherry Growers.
While he didn’t have red cherries broken down by variety, the largest shippers all told him they had more Sweetheart in 2015 than Bing, Thurlby said.
“It’s a trend growers need to understand when they are looking at what to plant,” he said.
WSU’s cherry breeding program began in 1949 and one of its first releases was Rainier. The program’s goal is to breed early varieties that are crack resistant and late varieties that are mildew resistant for Washington and Oregon, said Ines Hanrahan, postharvest physiologist of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. Size, firmness, color and taste are key attributes being sought.
PNW cherry crops have grown to be in the 20 million, 20-pound box range since 2009 with a peak of 23.2 million in 2014 and a final last season of 19.3 million, Thurlby said. A 21.3-million-box crop is likely this year if recent trends persist, he said. Following a 5.3-million, 18-pound box California crop in May, the PNW crop in June hit a record 11.9 million, 20-pound boxes but demand still exceeded supply, he said.
Marketers and retailers scheduled early July advertising in early June based on the belief that there would be a lull in supply between Bing and late varieties in early July, Thurlby said. But the hottest June on record accelerated harvest, causing a market glut in early July that tumbled prices, he said.
“It was a real mess and disappointing for me and I’m sure all of you,” he said.
Volume peaked at 600,000 boxes shipped on June 25 compared with a July 25 peak two years earlier and 18.7 million boxes were shipped in a compressed 60-day window, he said. Sweetheart normally has 80 to 90 days between bloom and harvest but was at 56 days, he said.
James Michael, Northwest Cherry Growers domestic promotions director, said there’s room for larger crops given health benefits of cherries. Americans average 1.5 units of cherries per person per season and if that rose 1 unit PNW growers would have to produce 28.4 million boxes to meet demand, he said.