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Pricing pressure on California’s cherry crop this season

California is seeing a large set on its cherry crop. "It's one of the largest sets we've had in the industry. It is also a good quality crop," says Joe Cataldo of J&M Farms and Delta Packing Co. of Lodi, California. "The problem is a lot of it is compressed."

While the season is tracking a few days late, California growers are aware that Washington, the next key cherry-growing region on the West Coast, is early. "So there's a rush to get into the market before Washington starts producing, which typically will really reduce the value of the crop," he says.

Photos: J&M Farms

While some light harvesting began at the end of April, heavier harvesting will begin in the Lodi region late this week and should continue until about June 14.

As for demand, it's a tough environment right now, says Cataldo. "Cherries are still somewhat of a luxury item and we're in an economy where people are watching their dollars," he says. "We do have demand and retailers are really being aggressive and are excited for cherries. The problem is the pricing is not there to be fair to the grower. It's getting to the point where it might not be sustainable for growers after Memorial Day."

Memorial Day weekend
Memorial Day is a huge weekend to push cherries in the U.S. However, growers are continuing to contend with the fact that their pricing hasn't increased while labor costs have tripled. Growers are also putting out better fruit. "The packing lines are more advanced. They're sorting out a lot more to give the consumer a better package but we're not getting paid any more," says Cataldo. "Last year broke my spirit but if this year repeats itself, it will break my heart."

This means with the ample supply of cherries in June, pricing could be driven down even further. "Last year a lot of fruit was left on the tree because of pricing," says Cataldo, noting that in turn, July will be a tight month for cherries given the shorter supply in parts of Washington and British Columbia. "If the industry could do a better job of spacing out this crop this season, it would be more successful and it would be enough for everybody. However, everybody wants to get in and out and not think how things could flow."

For more information:
Joe Cataldo
J&M Farms/Delta Packing
Tel: +1 (209) 334-1023
[email protected]