The nation’s tart cherry growers are on track to grow about as many tart cherries as they can sell this year. That’s good news for an industry that often grows too much fruit and sometimes restricts sales to keep supply in balance with demand.
Estimates for 2014 project growers producing about 260 million pounds of tart cherries. Most of that, about 180 million pounds, will come from Michigan.
The executive director of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board, Perry Hedin, says that’s an average to large crop.
“You’ve got to find that right and happy median in between the two extremes,” Hedin says. “This fits the bill quite well.”
Demand for tart cherries is also in good shape. Hedin says sales rebounded last year after a sharp drop in 2012—the year an early spring followed by frost wiped out almost the whole crop.
In 2013, the tart cherry industry recovered most of the market share it had lost from that disaster a year earlier, increasing total sales by 100 million pounds to more than 220 million.
That is news Hedin is happy to report. He says this recovery was much faster than after 2002, another year weather wiped out most of the crop. It took almost four years to restore sales after that loss.
“We were pleasantly surprised at how much we were able to recapture,” says Hedin of 2013.
Exactly why 2014 is not producing a bumper crop is a bit of a mystery. Frost was not a factor because spring was slow to arrive, so the danger of frost passed before trees began to blossom. Even though it was a wet spring, disease has not been a significant issue.
Growers report lots of variation in the yield from orchard to orchard or even within a row. Some trees are loaded with fruit while others are thin. Nikki Rothwell—who directs the Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center—says trees didn’t bloom for very long and this may explain, at least partially, the variation, because there was less chance for bees to pollinate the trees.
“Most bees can work pretty quickly to get that crop pollinated,” says Rothwell. “But I think that short bloom time may have contributed to some of the orchards having a heavier set compared to others.”