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Revised June 2018.
Two main types of cherries are produced in the United States: sweet cherries (Prunus avium) and tart or “sour” cherries (Prunus cerasus). Washington, California and Oregon are the primary sweet cherry producing states, accounting for almost 90 percent of the quantity produced nationwide. The primary tart cherry producing state is Michigan, accounting for nearly 74 percent of tart cherry production (NASS, 2015).
The marketing season for sweet cherries in California is April 25 to June 15; for Montana it is July 20 to August 20; and for all other states it is from June to July. The marketing season for tart cherries in all states is from June 25 to August 15 (NASS, 2017).
Cherries are consumed in a variety of ways, including: fresh, frozen, canned, juice, wine, brined and dried. From 2014-2016, an average of 75% of sweet cherries produced were destined for the fresh market, with the remaining 25% used for processing (NASS 2017).
U-pick operations are one way to add value when marketing fresh cherries. The direct farm to customer interaction builds relationships often leading to a higher percentage of repeat customers (University of Tennessee – Extension, 2014). Smaller farms (2 acres or less) are capable of selling their entire harvest through direct farm to customer marketing avenues (U-pick, farm stands, farmers’ markets). However, larger farms will need to utilize more than one avenue for sales, including wholesale (Pacific Northwest Extension, 2013).
Cherries sold through wholesale avenues whether destined for the fresh market or processed will go through a packinghouse (unless the grower has their own processing facility). Cherries are very delicate, especially tart cherries, and can be damaged during shipping. Before establishing a cherry orchard, it is best to know the locations of the nearest packinghouses and if they’re accepting new business. Packinghouse field personnel can also offer advice on the quality of fruit they require. Working with a reputable packinghouse close to your farm, and producing the quality they’re looking for are ways to add value to the price received for your fruit (Pacific Northwest Extension, 2013).
United States sweet cherry production in 2016 totaled 350,240 tons valued at $788 million. Washington led the nation in sweet cherry production (210,550 tons), followed by Oregon (62,080 tons) and California (55,000 tons) (NASS 2017).
United States tart cherry production in 2016 totaled 329.3 million pounds valued at $90.8 million. The primary tart producing state was Michigan (227 million pounds), followed by Utah (52.8 million pounds) and Washington (28 million pounds) (NASS 2017).
The United States is the second-largest producer of cherries in the world. Turkey is the leading cherry producer (FAOSTAT, 2013).
In 2016, cherry prices averaged $2,250 per ton; this number remained the same from 2015, but increased 5% from 2014 (NASS 2017).
Exports/Imports/United States Consumption
In 2017, United States cherry exports, sweet and tart varieties combined, were valued at $679 million. Fresh cherry exports accounted for $659 million and processed exported cherries accounted for $20 million (ERS 2018).
Regarding reported United States export and import destinations by value, data is only shown for fresh sweet cherries and dried cherries. South Korea was the largest market for U.S. fresh sweet cherry exports ($149 million), followed by Canada ($136 million). Germany was the largest market for U.S. dried cherry exports ($1.4 million) (ERS 2018).
United States cherry imports, sweet and tart varieties combined, were valued at almost $74 million. Fresh cherry imports accounted for nearly $64 million and processed exported cherries accounted for nearly $10.5 million. Chile was the main supplier of fresh sweet cherries ($28 million) and Turkey was the main supplier of dried cherries ($6 million) (ERS 2018).
Over the last few decades, total cherry consumption in the United States has remained relatively stable until recently. Peak consumption of cherries occurred in 2009 at 2.5 pounds per person, and a low of 1.2 pounds per person occurred in 2002. In 2016, per person consumption of all cherries was 2.2 pounds (ERS, 2014).
When establishing any orchard it is best to understand that the return on your investment can take years dependent on the crop. For sweet cherries it can take anywhere from 4-7 years before production, and for tart cherries 3-5 years. Creating a solid business plan and having the capital to pull through during the years of establishment are crucial (Stark Bro’s, n.d.) (Pacific Northwest Extension, 2013).
Cherry trees (both sweet and tart varieties) require 1000-1500 chilling hours between 35° F - 55°F to induce flowering. With colder temperatures sometimes come frosts, which is a huge concern for all growers including cherry producers. Fruit cracking is another concern regarding cherry production. Fruit cracking can happen if precipitation, heavy fog, or dew occurs just before harvest. Due to earlier flowering time and fruit production, sweet cherries are more prone to cracking than tart cherries. Fruit cracking destroys the aesthetic value of the fruit, and makes the fruit vulnerable to rotting. Prior to establishing a cherry orchard one should thoroughly evaluate the weather patterns of the desired site. Major concerns for cherry producers are spring frosts and precipitation events just before harvest. Unfortunately not all weather events are predictable, thus there are always risks involved (Pacific Northwest Extension, 2013) (Virginia Polytechnic State University – Cooperative Extension, 2014).
The most necessary aspect for cherry fruit production is proper pollination. Commercial varieties of tart cherries are considered self-pollinating; therefore planting them with another variety is not necessary. Sweet cherries, however, are not self-pollinating and thus need to be planted with compatible varieties for pollination to occur (Virginia Polytechnic State University – Cooperative Extension, 2014).
Helpful enterprise budgets for cherries:
- 2017 Sample Costs to Establish an Orchard and Produce Sweet Cherries in the San Joaquin Valley North, University of California – Cooperative Extension, 2017.
- Sweet and Tart Cherry Production Budgets, Pennsylvania State University, College of Agricultural Sciences – Cooperative Extension, 2014.
- The Costs and Returns of Establishing and Producing High-Density Sweet Cherries In Wasco County, Oregon State University – Extension Service, 2012.
A Farmers Guide to a Pick Your Own Operation, University of Tennessee – Extension, 2014.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Statistics Division (FAOSTAT), 2016. Click Item as Cherries, Area as United States and From Year 2016 To Year 2016.
Growing Cherries in Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – Cooperative Extension, 2014.
How Many Years Until Your Tree Bears Fruit, Stark Bro’s, n.d.
Non-Citrus Fruits and Nuts, National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS), USDA, 2017.
Sweet Cherry Orchard Establishment in the Pacific Northwest: Important Considerations for Success, Pacific Northwest Extension (Oregon, Washington and Idaho State Universities), 2013.
Table-A1: Fruit and tree nut per capita, U.S., 1976 to date (2016), ERS, USDA, 2017.
Cherry Imports/Export, ERS, USDA, 2018
- California Cherry Board (CCB) – The CCB site has information about cherry nutrition, recipes and consumer selection, storage and prep tips. The CCB also focuses on production and post-harvest research and is involved with export programs and trade activities in export markets.
- Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI) – The CMI is an organization funded by North American tart cherry growers and processors. Their mission is to increase the demand for tart cherries through promotion, market expansion, product development and research.
- Northwest Cherries: Washington State Fruit Commission – This commission represents promotion and research, education and administrative services for Washington’s soft tree fruits including sweet cherries.
- Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission – The purpose of the commission is to coordinate assessment revenue collected for research to improve agricultural practices and cherry production and to participate in promotional efforts to increase cherry sales domestically and internationally.
- Cherries: Organic Production, Ames, G.K., A national Sustainable Agriculture Assistance Program (ATTRA), 2014.
- OSU scientists invent rain-resistant coating that cuts cherry cracking in half, Long, L., and Kaiser, C., Oregon State University, 2015.
Links checked June 2018.