It’s taken awhile, but without further ado, here’s what we know and believe about the 2020 Northwest sweet cherry crop. And we’re excited to tell you about it!
Crop Size – First, the Northwest Cherry Growers’ Field Estimate team has compiled an initial (“Round 1”) projection for the 2020 Northwest crop. Annually this 22-person estimation team looks at their orchards as well as the surrounding area’s volume dynamics and compiles overviews for their area. Each member submits the data specific to their active growing districts, and then that data is built into an estimation model which represents each of the Northwest’s growing regions. The model is populated with historical data, growing degree day patterns, crop expansion, consumer market trends, processing tonnage and field assessments, and then uses the Field Team’s input to project a crop for the coming season. This year that estimate is 205,032 tons.
Round 1 NWCG Estimate: 20.5 million box equivalents
Crop Set – However, as always it is important to note that this Round One estimate has the most potential for variance from the eventual and actual size of the crop. A generally warm January and February gave our crop one of the earliest starts on record. Since then, however, relatively cool weather has tempered progression. This was especially true during pollination. As always, it will take a few weeks to determine how much of this year’s crop will remain on the tree. These “drops” are natural and taken into account in our subsequent estimates. But that’s not all we can tell from the trees, and the news is good.
Crop Timing – Using only the data available, it’s still a bit too early to project a potential daily curve for the Northwest cherry industry. However, we do believe it’s possible to estimate how the crop volume will lay out across the summer months. Below is that Round 1 monthly projection for the 2020 Northwest cherry crop. As a reminder, our projections based on the Round 1 Crop Estimate are just that – projections. Using data input from 90% of our industry, along with historical models, weather forecasts, planting reports and orchard visits, we adjust the Round 1 projection to connect forecasted industry data points and determine the estimated volume and timing of the coming sweet cherry crop.
Crop Progression – The generally warm months of late winter and early spring got the ball rolling in our early districts while the more northern and higher elevation districts were still seeing lower temperatures. So while we expect a strong start to our crop in the last few days of May, we are also expecting one of our largest spreads between early and late districts. That’s illustrated in the Accumulated GDD Chart above. Tri-Cities and Mattawa, both early districts, show a typical spread. Harrah, our sample station for the mid-season Yakima Valley district, is showing one of the widest spreads to date with the late season Chelan district. In a year where many retailers are experiencing reduced store trips and customers looking for a taste of summer, a strong June start and a longer crop is about as best as can be hoped for at this stage. Historically, this type of separation in degree days across the districts points to a full season where the industry will have 95 plus days of sales to move the crop.
To illustrate the progression by district further, the charts below have laid this year’s crop development against the past few seasons. While these charts give us a good measure of the regions, it doesn’t take into account variety differences, orchard site and architecture, elevation and other time-impacting factors.
Mattawa (Washington), perennially one of our earliest growing regions, has stayed within the top three warmest springs on record. It’s currently trending just behind the 2015 season.
The LeGrow (Washington) station historically represents the Tri-Cities growing region, another early site in the Northwest. They too have been experiencing a fairly warm spring, and have consistently been pacing ahead of typical for the region. However, as many of our earliest varieties are planted here and in Mattawa, that put them at greater risk for damage during the February and mid-March freezes.
Along the Columbia River, Hermiston (Oregon) has maintained a fairly steady accumulation since January, and like the other earlier regions, is trailing just behind the 2015 season to date.
Wenatchee (Washington) is a classic reference for our late season crop. Pierced by a cold river, the valley offers two slopes with plenty of elevation variation to expand orchard timing. Though the cold was slow to recede from the mountains and hills surrounding Wenatchee, the GDD units have been catching up lately and certainly have moved ahead of last season and several others.
We are anticipating the ability to maintain extended Rainier retail promotions this season, as the estimate is projecting a strong Rainier crop of over 2 million boxes (15-pound). If the Round 1 estimate and the weather patterns hold, then it is shaping up to be a great year for Rainier exposure, with promotable volume easily stretching past National Rainier Cherry Day on the 11th of July.
Crop Promotion – If nothing else is certain, what’s clear is that there is a worldwide opportunity fast approaching with the Northwest cherry crop. When the pipeline opens, will your plans and programs be ready? This year our retail partners are busier than ever before in their efforts to keep people fed and supplied. We’re all watching the extraordinary data coming from retail, showing massive leaps and shifts in how consumers are doing their shopping. In the case of a highly seasonal refrigerated product that registers 72% impulse sales, we must be willing and able to meet consumers with our message wherever and however they may be shopping. We at the NWCG are focused on a consumer-marketing plan designed to announce the crop and stimulate seasonal awareness and cherry demand. If your organization would like to participate in a digital cherry promotion to help spread that message along this season, please feel free to reach out to your NWCG representative or contact us in the Northwest. We have in-house and ad hoc designers standing by, as well as some prebuilt materials that can simply be dropped into existing summer campaigns. Together, we will continue to provide food for the world and a return all the way along the chain and back to the soil!