Hood River Cherry Co. poised to deliver premium late season cherries
“It is a little too early to tell, but at this point we know for sure the 2021 Hood River Cherry Company crop will not be overset,” said Brad Fowler of Hood River Cherry Co. “In fact, it looks exactly like last year’s crop, which produced about 6 tons per acre of large, high-quality fruit.” While the goal for most growers is 10 tons of fruit per acre, Hood River Cherry typically harvests about half that. Fowler and his wife, Katy Klein, report that their low tonnage per acre means their fruit receives more nutrients, resulting in larger, better-tasting, sweeter cherries.
“Even though the trees were set up to deliver a bumper crop with lots of bloom, thankfully it never happened,” said Fowler. “A heavy crop is bad news for everyone, especially shoppers, who want to buy the large firm cherries.”
Located high in the valley near the base of Mount Hood, the elevation of its orchard makes Hood River Cherry is one of the latest producers in the Northwest. “This season we expect to begin packing on July 10 and continue until late August,” said Fowler. “These late season cherries are the very best quality in the nation. Mother Nature saves the best for last. This puts extra pressure on us to make sure we can deliver what our customers have come to expect.”
The company operates a large cold storage facility and a small cherry processing plant on site, just a few steps from their orchard. Harvested cherries are hydro-cooled within one hour of being picked and Hood River only packs fruit from its own acreage in order to maintain high-quality standards from tree to box. They work to constantly improve their horticultural and packaging practices to deliver sweet, crisp, delicious cherries to their customers.
“Heat is the enemy of quality cherries, both pre-harvest and post-harvest,” said Fowler, who believes the cold chain starts on the tree. “Hood River Cherry Co. has been picking at night since 2016. At first it was on a test basis and then full time in 2019. As you might guess, picking at night adds another dimension of complexity to our process.”
Fowler and Klein got into the cherry business 20 years ago because they were astounded by the bland, under ripe cherries available in their local stores right in the middle of cherry country during peak season. They knew what a cherry should be like: sweet, flavorful, big and beautiful. So, they set out to grow the best cherries Mother Nature could produce. “And we give it to them,” said Fowler. The company allows the cherries to remain on the tree, growing plump and sweet until the sugar level reaches at least 21 brix. “We still have the exact same box, the exact same bags. Year over year, that’s what customers want, and we give it to them,” said Fowler.