Cherry growers like all farmers find each year as a unique opportunity and a unique challenge. The 2010 cherry harvest was a relatively small harvest for us because of spring frosts reducing the crop to about 70 percent of a full crop. But as we say, there is always next year.
We finish one crop year in August and immediately begin working on the new crop. Pruning, training, fertilizing and pest & disease control activities continue until the new harvest begins the following June. During the 10 months between harvests we are subject to what Mother Nature has in store for us and we learn to manage accordingly.
Mother Nature put its first work in on the 2011 crop with an early freeze in late November of 2010. This freeze came as most of our trees still had their green leaves and were vulnerable to damage by the cold temperatures. Most of our orchards escaped significant damage but they were weakened by the cold. As if this were not enough, Mother Nature struck with another abnormal freeze in February, which subjected the trees to one more chance to reduce the coming crop. If you did have damage it was then impossible to tell when the damage had occurred.
In March, April and May we had intermittent frosts that further reduced the crop. For us, most of the spring frost damage was in our later orchards south of The Dalles. With all of the potential for crop reduction we came through with what we determined to be about 85-90 percent of a full crop, which is very good.
The cherry business can be funny in how the market fluctuates. We have had some of our worst financial years when we have a full crop and everyone else does as well. The law of supply and demand always comes into play. Some of our best years have been when everyone has 80-85 percent of a full crop or less.
We began the 2011 harvest on June 24, which was the latest we had ever started harvesting cherries. The early harvest went very well with the primary challenge was trying to be patient and wait for the cherries to ripen in the latest of all seasons. Just as we were on a roll Mother Nature took one more whack at us. A rain storm hit on the 18th and 19th of July and did some major damage to the cherries that were ripening at that time.
It is now a week after the rain storm and we are beginning to work our way through the worst of the damaged orchards and looking forward to things improving the rest of the season. We have about 4 more weeks of harvest and if everything goes well we can still have a good year.