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.
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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.


Value of Washington organic farm crops rising, acreage shrinking | capitalpress.com

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) — For the first time, people seek out Gary Middleton to buy his organic fruit.

That’s something that has taken Middleton, who farms about 100 acres of organic apples, cherries and blueberries near Eltopia, about 13 years to accomplish, and is among the reasons he plans to continue to stay organic.

The number of organic acres farmed in the state is dropping, from almost 105,000 in 2009 to an estimated 88,100 in 2012, according to a recent study by Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

But the value of the state’s organic crops is rising.

It grew by 20 percent from 2010-11, to $284.5 million, the study said. That’s the highest value in seven years.

Eastern Washington counties accounted for about 82 percent of that value.

Some of the drop in acreage may be because farmers have realized the amount of work, expense and challenge involved with farming organically, said Middleton of Middleton Organic Orchards.

Organic agriculture is more labor-intensive, requiring hand thinning and hand weeding, he explained. At the peak, when blueberries and cherries are harvested simultaneously, he’ll need about 250 people.

Organic prices have to be high enough to cover those increased costs.

“I love being an organic farmer, but it still comes down to economics,” he said.

Organic farmers don’t use herbicides, and are limited in the pesticides and fertilizers they can use.

Middleton uses compost for fertilizer, which requires more planning when it comes to nutrients. It doesn’t deliver as much nitrogen as fast as synthetic products.

But organic agriculture seems a good fit for stewardship of the land, he said. He’s noticed that the beneficial insects, including bees and ladybugs, have increased.

Most of the blueberries still were green last week, although a few showed a hint of a bluish-purple hue.

Middleton’s irrigation system was going on and off in a 15-minute rotation to cool his apples and blueberries and to suppress sunburn.

The blueberry and cherry harvests will likely start around the end of this month, Middleton said. Blueberries will be color-picked by hand, with the same bushes picked three to four times.

Middleton’s goal is to serve an “elite” fresh market, with stores like Costco and Whole Foods carrying his blueberries, he said.

Blueberry harvest can last a month, and cherry harvest can last for about 14 days, he said. His cherries, like others in the area, were hit by frost damage, slashing the expected yield.

After those harvests are complete, Middleton and his crew will move on to the Gala, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples. Frost also might affect those yields, but he said the blueberries seemed to come through the cold — which dropped as low as 23 degrees — just fine.

Increasing yields from fruit trees could be a part of why the value of the state’s organic crops continue to grow, said David Granatstein, a sustainable agriculture specialist at WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Granatstein completed the WSU study with Elizabeth Kirby, a sustainable agriculture research associate.

It’s also possible that some fruit that was sold as conventional because of better prices is now being sold as organic, Granatstein said.

Sales and prices of organic crops continue to increase, suggesting that the market is not saturated, he said.

Grant County continues to lead the state in organic production with about 22,000 acres and a 2011 crop value of $87.8 million, up about 37 percent from the year before.

Benton County has the second most acreage, at about 7,800 in 2012, down about 10 percent from the year before. The 2011 crop value was about $25.8 million, up 17 percent from the previous year.

Franklin County had an estimated 3,200 acres in 2012, a 2 percent drop. Yet value climbed by nearly 37 percent to $18 million.

Organic acres and sales for other area counties were:

* Adams County, relatively unchanged at about 2,500 organic acres in 2012, with value growing by nearly 37 percent to more than $6 million in 2011.

* Walla Walla County, down by 4 percent to about 2,200 acres in 2012, with value up 10 percent to $22 million.

* Yakima County, up 5 percent at about 5,700 acres in 2012, with value increasing 23 percent to $23.4 million in 2011.