Bruce Hinchman, sales manager for M&R Co., headquartered in Lodi, CA, is seeing a “normal” cherry crop for 2017 — and in his mind, “normal” is just great.
“This is the first time in four or five years where it’s been normal,” he said.
“We had good bloom weather and enough rain during the off season, and cherries are coming out of their pollination stage looking like there’s a good crop. Some areas are questionable, such as the Southern Valley, but other than that, I think people are pretty happy about what they’re seeing out on the trees.”
Hinchman predicts the harvest will be ready anywhere from April 20-25 and will last through about June 15.
“Our last good crop was 2012,” he said. “Sometimes, like in 2014 when we only had about 2-3 million, there wasn’t much we could do. The last couple of years have increased to 5-6 million and when you go out to market 8-9 million, there are some hiccups.”
Of course, with the official cherry season still weeks away, there’s still some time before they get in the box and anything can happen. The rain two weeks ago is already making some wonder what’s going to happen later in the season.
“Every time it rains on cherries, you’re going to have an issue,” he said. “We’re used to handling one or two, but nine of them last year really minimized some of our markets as we couldn’t go as hard with exports and we had some shelf-life issues.”
In recent years, the company has concentrated on growing newer varieties, such as the Royal Hazel and Corals.
“They are earlier and a red sweet cherry, so you can wait until they get dark, which is what the consumer wants and demands,” Hinchman said. “It is one of the last seasonal fruits. It’s not available 12 months out of the year like some of the others, and cherries kick off the whole summer program for retailers.”
The company is in the process of installing a new Unitec packing line, which is highly automated and handles tasks, including emptying bins and packaging; and has installed a complete new Unitec line with a four-lane electronic sizer to process Rainier cherries.
“The new line in the Lodi facility is the first in California to have Unitec’s full traceability system and the first to be equipped with Unitec’s robotic roll-over bin dumper, which is designed to be extremely gentle on cherries,” said Donna Reynolds, president of the company. “The new line in the Linden facility is the first in California to be built specifically just for Rainiers.”
Hinchman said these will help check internal defects, firmness and reduce labor needs, and will lead to better shelf-life overall.