Stemilt Begins Packing High-Altitude Cherry Box

WENATCHEE, Wash. – It’s mid-August but cherry harvest is still going strong for Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, WA. In fact, Stemilt is just starting to pack fresh cherries in a new, high-altitude box. The special pack type is only used when the company begins harvesting its high-elevation cherries, as it helps differentiate the company’s premium late cherry program in the marketplace.

According to Stemilt marketing director Roger Pepperl, the idea for the high-altitude box is nothing new. “Our founder, Tom Mathison, used to pack cherries in a Hill Cherry box to differentiate Stemilt’s late cherry program. The only difference is that those late cherries were harvested in July, and now we’re growing cherries at even higher elevations in order to deliver fresh cherries well into September,” Pepperl said.

In fact, Stemilt will be harvesting cherries daily for the next three weeks. This is due in part to a cooler-than-normal spring in Washington that pushed back cherry harvest start dates, but is also due to the unique location of fourth generation Stemilt cherry grower, Kyle Mathison’s, Amigos orchard.

Named after the Spanish word for friends, the Amigos ranch sits between 3,000 and 3,500 feet above sea level, not too far from the Mathison family’s original homestead on Stemilt Hill. These towering altitudes combine with late-ripening cherry varieties to extend Stemilt’s cherry harvest into September.

In the cherry world, any orchard planted above 1,800 feet is considered high elevation. Having already surpassed that height, Mathison began planting cherries at even higher elevations in 2002 in order to stretch the availability window of Stemilt cherries.

“My dream is to be able to provide consumers with World Famous Stemilt cherries as long as possible,” said Mathison. “Amigos not only extends the availability of cherries, but it sits on the best growing ground in the world. The mild climate stays cool during the hot summer while the rich soil fuels trees with the right nutrients to produce large, perfect-tasting cherries.”

Though it seems like Amigos would be a farmer’s dream come true, growing cherries at such high elevations is a risky business. According to Mathison, Amigos sees much colder winters than lower elevations and is highly susceptible to winter kill.

Once past the hurdle of winter and long after other cherry trees in the region blossom, the Amigos orchards awake from their dormant stage and gradually move into full bloom. Generally, cherries are picked one day later for every 100 feet gained in vertical elevation, Mathison said. That makes Amigos the latest cherry block to be harvested in Washington state.

Stemilt will use the high-altitude cherry box from now until the end of its cherry season in September. Skeena, Sweetheart, and Staccato cherries are the varieties harvested on Amigos, and according to Mathison, are the best of the best.

“We’ve enjoyed great conditions for growing cherries this summer. The fruit has been large, firm, and full of dessert qualities. The cherries coming from Amigos are no exception. They will deliver a great finale to the most exciting time of the year in produce – cherry season,” Mathison said.

About Stemilt

Stemilt Growers is a leading tree fruit growing, packing and shipping company based in Wenatchee, Washington. Owned and operated by the Mathison family, Stemilt is the leading shipper of sweet cherries and the largest supplier of organic tree fruits in the nation. Stemilt has also demonstrated a commitment to sustainable agriculture and social responsibility since 1989, when founder Tom Mathison launched the company’s Responsible Choice program.

Source: Stemilt Growers