Agronometrics In Charts: Devastated Pacific Northwest Cherry Season Pushes Prices To Historic Levels


According to the Northwest Horticultural Council, 20 million boxes of cherries were produced last year by growers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah, valued at nearly a billion dollars. This year, a cold and wet spring stunted the development of many cherries, leading to what is, ostensibly, the smallest crop of Northwest sweet cherries in nearly 14 years. 

The crop is reported to be 80,000 tons short owing to a severe winter storm experienced by Washington and Oregon on April 14 which reduced fruit set and pollination and caused damage to blossoms.

Cherries are the first fruit to be harvested in Washington each year and are therefore more susceptible to capricious weather and temperature fluctuations in the spring. After pollination, cherry buds require consistent warm spring days to swell and develop into fully mature cherries.

According to B.J. Thurlby, the president of both the Washington State Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherries, a snow event during the cherry bloom has not happened before, he went on to add that the crop is the smallest since 2008 and that the crop should finish up at 130,000 tons going to the fresh market.

Prices escalated to historic levels this season, reaching $76.78 per package during week 27, in line with supply tightness and shortages. Week 31 saw prices at $45.58 per package, a 42 percent hike compared to the previous season.

There is also a high degree of uncertainty surrounding the financial sustainability of the industry. Growers are faced with exorbitant energy and labor costs. With packaging costs also climbing, profit margins have reduced. This level of inflation in input prices could potentially discourage growers. 

According to Karina Gallardo, an economist at The Washington State University, labor costs have risen to $21.76 for hand labor and $23.01 for tractor drivers and irrigators. (Having increased from $20.43 and $21.68, respectively, in 2021).

Growers in North America, however, are perseverent and resilient to challenges. Many growers have begun investing in newer varieties that are self-pollinating, more fertile and resistant to adverse growing conditions.

These factors are likely to support the future of the industry, to ensure that production flourishes. 

From Fresh Fruit Portal