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Cold, wet spring pushes back cherry harvest in Washington

Courtesy of Washington State Fruit Commission
Washington's Rainier cherry group blossomed after the April snows, good timing as it turns out.

Industry officials say it could be a banner year for Rainier cherries.

Snow fell throughout the Northwest in early April just as the cherries were blooming. That has had an effect.

More than 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, the president of the Washington State Fruit Commission is warning not to expect that level of harvest. B.J. Thurlby predicts 14 million boxes, as the colder spring weather has prevented cherry blossoms from being pollinated on time.

Thurlby says 40% of cherries in Washington had yet to bloom when snow fell on orchards in mid-April. The bright red Bings were the variety most affected by the surprise snowfall.

“It was the variety that was kind of right in bloom when a lot of the snow hit and again, the bees only work, they only come out of their hives when it's 55 degrees and higher. And, and we went through a lot of bloom where the bees just didn't get out and work," he said.

Jim Jamison has a small cherry plot in Richland. By this time each year, he normally has hundreds of people stopping by to gather the small fruit at his U-Pick orchard.

“I think ours in the Northwest will be late. I fully expect there will be growers in the valley here picking cherries in mid July and beyond, perhaps it depends on varieties.”

"We're hoping that we end up with enough fruit to bring the market try to satisfy the different markets that we're trying to sell cherries into 40 different markets around the world," Thurlby said.

He estimates cherries to price out between $3.99 and $5.99 per pound this summer.

One silver – or rather, yellow, lining for cherry fans: this year’s Rainier crop bloomed after the April snow. That means it might be a banner year for yellow cherries. Thurlby says you can expect them in stores for the next month all the way through July.