U.S. tart cherry crop down 68% from 2011

by Ron Sterk
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. 2012 tart cherry crop was forecast at 73.1 million lbs, down 68% from 2011 due to losses in top-producing Michigan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its annual Cherry Production report today. Sweet cherry production was forecast at 382,150 tons, up 11% from 2011.

“In Michigan, record high temperatures in early spring led to premature development of trees,” the U.S.D.A. said. “This was followed by below normal temperatures and continual frost events throughout the state. Additionally, pollination conditions were poor.

“The majority of (Michigan) growers lost all of their harvestable crop this year.”

Production in normally top-producing Michigan was forecast at 5.5 million lbs, down 97% from 2011.

The last time Michigan saw a similar crop disaster was in 2002 when production was 15 million lbs, while total U.S. production that year was 62.5 million lbs, according to U.S.D.A. data.

The New York crop also was hit by freezing temperatures, resulting in a record low crop of 1.1 million lbs, down 81% from last year, the U.S.D.A. said.

Early budding in Wisconsin also was followed by several nights of freezing temperatures, which cut its crop to 500,000 lbs, down 93% from 2011.

Pennsylvania’s crop also was reduced by frost with 2012 production forecast at 2.5 million lbs, down 22% from last year.

The Pacific Northwest fared better. Production in Utah, normally the second largest tart cherry producing state, was forecast at 34 million lbs, down 3% from 2011. Production in Oregon was unchanged from 2011 at 2.5 million lbs. Washington, usually the third largest growing state, was the only one of the seven major states to see a larger crop. Production there was forecast at 27 million lbs, up 29% from last year.

Sweet cherries, grown mainly in the West, fared much better with increases seen in all western states, but decreases in Michigan and New York due to the same elements that devastated the tart crop.

Production in Washington, the largest sweet cherry state, was forecast at 235,000 tons, up 18% from 2011.

“Washington growers reported excellent weather this year,” the U.S.D.A. said. “Winter conditions were moderate and warm spring conditions allowed for an excellent bloom and resulted in good pollination levels.”

Production in California, the second largest sweet cherry state, was forecast at 85,000 tons, up 13% from 2011. Oregon production was seen at 53,000 tons, up 23%, Idaho at 4,000 tons, up 43%, and Utah at 1,600 tons, up 100%.

Sweet cherry production in Michigan was forecast at 3,300 tons, down 82%, and in New York at 250 tons, down 64% from last year.

Tart cherries are mostly processed and used for pie filling while most sweet cherries are sold fresh. Trade sources indicated supplies of tart cherries were expected to soon be unavailable, with cranberries or red raspberries being substituted in baking and other food processing applications when applicable.

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