Oregon’s Cherry Industry
There are two main types of cherries produced in the United States: sweet cherries and tart cherries. Oregon is currently the third highest producer of sweet cherries in the nation, supplying 11 percent of the U.S. market. The warm days and cool nights in the Pacific Northwest make for an ideal growing season.
Although cherries can be found throughout the Willamette Valley, the majority of Oregon’s cherry crop is tucked in the shadow of Mt. Hood on hillsides overlooking the Columbia River. The mountain blocks most of the rain that blows in from the west, protecting the cherries from weather that would otherwise split and soften the fruit. The sunny days also help prevent disease and other issues associated with an abundance of precipitation.
Cherry trees grow from rootstock that are grafted with a specific cherry variety and grown in a nursery until they are ready to be planted. Once planted in the orchard, cherry trees take three to four years to reach full production. Some growers choose to move their trees to a trellis system after the first few years in the orchard. The trellis system allows more trees to be planted per acre, creating a higher density, which results in more cherries per acre, faster picking and more money for the pickers who typically get paid by the bucket.
Cherry harvest in the Northwest lasts from early June through the end of August, depending on climate and cherry variety. Experienced workers harvest the cherries by hand, lifting a cluster, and carefully separating each stem from the spur. Individual buckets are filled with cherries and then dumped into large square bins. The bins are stacked on pallets and eventually loaded onto the back of a truck by a forklift. From there cherries are transported to a processing facility where they are washed, sorted, and packed for retail. Technology allows packers to sort cherries based on size, color, grade, external defects, and internal condition. Some cherries are packaged fresh, while others are frozen, brined, glaced, dried, or canned. No matter what the end product may be, Oregon cherries are enjoyed by consumers throughout the world.
Cherries are a very nutritious food, supplying the body with fiber, protein and vitamin A and C. Cherries not only boost antioxidant activity in the body, but also help with arthritis, improve memory, aid in a good night’s sleep, lower blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease and colon cancer.
- Cherry Facts:
- The Willamette Valley supplies 3,200 acres of sweet cherries and the Mid-Columbia Valley supplies 12,300 acres.
- Sour cherries are usually red whereas sweet cherries have greater variation in color. Some sweet cherries are dark-skinned and others light-skinned.
- Bing cherries are the most popular cherry variety.
- The Bing cherry was first developed by a pioneer grower in Oregon, who named it for one of his Chinese workers.
- Cherries belong to the stone fruit family along with peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines and loquats
- Ernest Wiegand, a professor at Oregon state University, perfected the modern process of making maraschino cherries