The marketing season for sweet cherries in California is April 25 to June 15; for Montana it is July 20 to August 20; and for all other states it is from June to July. The marketing season for tart cherries in all states is from June 25 to August 15 (NASS, 2015).
Cherries are consumed in a variety of ways, including fresh, frozen and canned, or as juice, wine, brined or dried. From 2012-2014, an average of 76 percent of sweet cherries produced were destined for the fresh market, with the remaining 24 percent used for processing.
With regard to tart cherries, 99 percent of production is used for processing (NASS, 2015).
U-pick operations are one way to add value when marketing fresh cherries. The direct farm to customer interaction builds relationships often leading to a higher percentage of repeat customers (University of Tennessee – Extension, 2014). Smaller farms (2 acres or less) are capable of selling their entire harvest through direct farm to customer marketing avenues (U-pick, farm stands, farmers’ markets). However, larger farms will need to utilize more than one avenue for sales, including wholesale (Pacific Northwest Extension, 2013).
Cherries sold through wholesale avenues whether destined for the fresh market or processed will go through a packinghouse (unless the grower has their own processing facility). Cherries are very delicate, especially tart cherries, and can be damaged during shipping. Before establishing a cherry orchard, it is best to know the locations of the nearest packinghouses and if they’re accepting new business. Packinghouse field personnel can also offer advice on the quality of fruit they require. Working with a reputable packinghouse close to your farm, and producing the quality they’re looking for are ways to add value to the price received for your fruit (Pacific Northwest Extension, 2013).
United States sweet cherry production in 2014 totaled 363,850 tons valued at 767 million. Washington led the nation in sweet cherry production, with 237,000 tons, followed by Oregon (57,900 tons) and California (29,200 tons) (NASS, 2015).
United States tart cherry production in 2014 totaled 300.9 million pounds valued at more than $106 million. The primary tart cherry producing state was Michigan having 203 million pounds of production, followed by Utah (51 million pounds) and Washington (24.3 million pounds) (NASS, 2015).
The United States is the second-largest producer of cherries in the world. Turkey is the leading cherry producer (FAOSTAT, 2013).
In 2014, sweet cherry prices averaged $2,140 per ton, down 22 percent from 2013, and up 6 percent from 2012. Tart cherry prices averaged $710 per ton, relatively the same price as 2013, but down 67 percent from 2012 (NASS, 2015).
Exports/Imports/United States Consumption
In 2014, United States cherry exports, sweet and tart varieties combined, were valued at $536.84 million. Fresh cherry exports accounted for $471.4 million, and processed exported cherries accounted for $65.4 million (ERS, 2015).
Regarding reported United States export and import destinations by value, data is only shown for fresh sweet cherries and dried cherries. Canada was the largest market for U.S. fresh sweet cherry exports, valued at $119.2 million, followed by South Korea, valued at $111.9 million. Germany was the largest market for U.S. dried cherry exports, valued at $1.5 million (ERS, 2015).
United States cherry imports, sweet and tart varieties combined, were valued at almost 151.5 million. Fresh cherry imports accounted for nearly $64.7 million, and processed exported cherries accounted for nearly $86.8 million (ERS, 2015). Chile was the main supplier of fresh sweet cherries, valued at $44 million, and Turkey was the main supplier of dried cherries, valued at $1 million (ERS, 2015).
Over the last few decades, total cherry consumption in the United States has remained relatively stable until recently. Peak consumption of cherries occurred in 2009 at 2.5 pounds per person, and a low of 1.2 pounds per person occurred in 2002. In 2013, per person consumption of all cherries was 1.6 pounds (ERS, 2014).
When establishing any orchard it is best to understand that the return on your investment can take years dependent on the crop. For sweet cherries it can take anywhere from 4-7 years before production, and for tart cherries 3-5 years. Creating a solid business plan and having the capital to pull through during the years of establishment are crucial (Stark Bro’s, n.d.) (Pacific Northwest Extension, 2013).
Cherry trees (both sweet and tart varieties) require 1000-1500 chilling hours between 35° F - 55°F to induce flowering. With colder temperatures sometimes come frosts, which is a huge concern for all growers including cherry producers. Fruit cracking is another concern regarding cherry production. Fruit cracking can happen if precipitation, heavy fog, or dew occurs just before harvest. Due to earlier flowering time and fruit production, sweet cherries are more prone to cracking than tart cherries. Fruit cracking destroys the aesthetic value of the fruit, and makes the fruit vulnerable to rotting. Prior to establishing a cherry orchard one should thoroughly evaluate the weather patterns of the desired site. Major concerns for cherry producers are spring frosts and precipitation events just before harvest. Unfortunately not all weather events are predictable, thus there are always risks involved (Pacific Northwest Extension, 2013) (Virginia Polytechnic State University – Cooperative Extension, 2014).
The most necessary aspect for cherry fruit production is proper pollination. Commercial varieties of tart cherries are considered self-pollinating; therefore planting them with another variety is not necessary. Sweet cherries, however, are not self-pollinating and thus need to be planted with compatible varieties for pollination to occur (Virginia Polytechnic State University – Cooperative Extension, 2014).