Sweetheart overtakes Bing as popular cherry variety – Orchards, Nuts & Vines – Capital Press

Sweetheart overtakes Bing as popular cherry variety

Published: January 20, 2016 9:06AM

AR-160129993.jpg%26amp;MaxW=600Dan 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.
Buy this photo

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.


Hermiston watermelon harvest begins | capitalpress.com

Posted: Friday, July 19, 2013 9:29 AM


EO Media Group

With summer heating up, Hermiston’s most famous fruit is back in season.

Crews at Bellinger Farms began picking watermelons last week, and the harvest is expected to run into early October. Demand usually peaks around Labor Day as people gather outside for picnics and family reunions, said owner Jack Bellinger.

The recent weather also has Bellinger excited for this year’s crop. Hot days and cool nights are essential to increasing the sugar content of Hermiston watermelons, giving them their distinctive sweetness.

That reputation is a point of pride in the community. The watermelon is a symbol of the city, adorning the water tower and Chamber of Commerce logo.

Hermiston watermelons even have more than 3,500 “likes” on Facebook.

“You think of watermelons, and you think of good times. It’s a fun fruit,” Bellinger said. “What a great thing to grow in the desert.”

Despite their local appeal, watermelons are grown in less than 800 total acres of area farms. By comparison, northern Umatilla and Morrow counties grow 30,000 acres each of potatoes and corn.

The watermelon is more of a boutique crop here, Bellinger said. Of his farm’s 750 acres, 300 are set aside for watermelons, cantaloupe and a few other vegetables.

The average yield is typically 35 tons per acre, which he hopes to reach this year.

Other than a May frost that killed two acres and several 100-plus degree days — considered too hot — Bellinger said the weather leading up to harvest has been good for watermelons.

“We like what we see so far,” he said. “It’s a unique microclimate in this area that allows us to produce superior fruit.”

Skip Walchli, of Walchli Farms, said his harvest should pick up early next week. He expects a better yield than the last two years, when colder weather in June slowed both growth and sales.

“It takes hot weather to sell watermelons,” Walchli said. “In general, the watermelons as of right now are in good quality.”

Walchli and Bellinger are among a handful of major Hermiston growers who work with Botsford & Goodfellow, based in Clackamas, to sell their product in stores across the Northwest, including the Portland and Seattle areas.

Former broker Denny McNamee spent 25 years in the business before retiring, though he still keeps an eye on the company. Watermelon prices are currently a healthy 26 cents per pound in Hermiston, though it’s still early in the season.

McNamee was worried the string of scorching hot days earlier this month would put too much stress on the melons, but they appear to be doing fine, he said.

“Quality definitely wasn’t hurt. Yield has yet to be seen,” McNamee said. “My first guess is it won’t. But we’ll see.”

Nationally, the leading producers of watermelon in 2012 were Florida and Georgia, followed by California and Texas, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. But Hermiston has a definite niche, McNamee said, kept alive by several generations of farmers.

“These families have farmed watermelon and passed it down from father to son,” he said. “These growers probably have forgotten more than you and I will ever know. They’re all great people.”

At Bellinger, the harvest is a labor-intensive process. Workers use knives to cut the melons off their vine, and eight-man pitching crews follow loading the fruit onto the back of a truck.

From there, it is brought back to the main facility for weighing, sorting and packaging. Bellinger will have 75-80 workers at the height of the operation, and he said he is “blessed with one of the best crews in the area.”

Everyone understands the urgency of getting the melons to market, he said. They are hopeful to have a good supply in stock in time for the Labor Day rush.

“I’m very much looking forward to it,” Bellinger said. “I think the quality will be great, and that’s a huge part of it.”


Blueberry industry addresses looming imbalance between supply, demand | capitalpress.com

Glenn Aldrich has been growing blueberries for 50 years, and for the past 20 or 30 years, he said, the industry has been “quite a success story.”

But now, he said, producers face a new challenge.

Acreage and yield have increased on U.S. farms, and the per capita consumption has also increased significantly. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, annual per capita consumption has grown from a little less than 1 pound in 2000 to almost 2 pounds in 2009.

What worries Aldrich is all the blueberry plantings that will come into maturity the next couple of years.

“That per capita has to increase dramatically,” he said.

The Highbush Council expects production to increase more than 38 percent by 2015. And the North American Blueberry Council figures that to maintain a balance between supply and demand, annual consumption will have to reach more than 3 pounds per capita, according to the North American Blueberry Council.

Along with the Highbush Council’s continuing promotion of the berry’s health benefits, development of new products is expected to boost consumption.

According to the NABC, North American food processors developed almost 1,000 new products in 2012, and worldwide processors — including those in Asia, Europe and Latin America — have turned out 3,200 products. New categories include juices, pet foods and cosmetics. Also frozen blueberries are going into consumer-size poly bags.

World highbush blueberry acreage grew from 50,000 acres in 1995 to more than 190,000 in 2010. More than half the acreage is in North America, followed by South America — primarily Chile — and European countries such as Poland, Germany and France.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the U.S. exported $125 million in fresh blueberries in 2012, up 17 percent from the previous year. Frozen blueberries totaled $69 million, up 39 percent. Canada was the No. 1 buyer, followed by Japan.

Still, the U.S. is a net importer of blueberries, importing $420 million in 2012, a 12 percent increase. More than half comes from Chile, which provides fresh berries during the winter. Canada provides 25 percent of fresh blueberries and more than half the frozen product.

Washington state’s production of blueberries has grown in both pounds and in acres harvested.

In 2009, growers produced 39 million pounds on 4,800 acres; in 2010, 42 million pounds on 5,200 acres; and in 2011, 61 million pounds on 7,000 acres, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Most of the state’s production is in Whatcom and Skagit counties, in northwestern Washington. More than a dozen growers operate between Everett and Mossyrock, a half-dozen in Eastern Washington and a half-dozen in Clark County, near Vancouver.

In 2012, the state ranked fourth in blueberry production, behind Michigan, Oregon and Georgia. But it led all other states in yield, producing more than 4 tons per acre, followed by Oregon, New Jersey, California and North Carolina.


* July 12-13 — Oregon Berry Festival in Portland

* Aug. 2-4 — Mossyrock Blueberry Festival

More information: www.pickyourown.org/BlueberryFestivals.php