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Revised September 2021.
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, 2020).
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, 2020).
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 2020).
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 fresh sweet cherry production in 2020 totaled 265,820 tons valued at $522 million. Washington led the nation in sweet cherry production (163,600 tons), followed by California (59,360 tons) and Oregon (42,860 tons) (NASS 2020).
United States tart cherry production in 2020 totaled 138 million pounds valued at $0.38 per pound. The primary tart producing state was Michigan (69.2 million pounds), followed by Utah (27.2 million pounds) and Washington (21.2 million pounds) (NASS 2020).
The United States is the second-largest producer of cherries in the world. Turkey is the leading cherry producer (FAOSTAT, 2013).
In 2016, fresh cherry prices averaged $3,280 per ton and processed cherry prices averaged $622 per ton; this number increased from 2019 by $1,130 for fresh cherries but decreased for processed cherries by $32. (NASS 2020).
Exports/Imports/United States Consumption
In 2021, United States cherry exports, for sweet fresh cherries, were valued at $428.7 million. (ERS 2021).
Regarding reported United States export and import destinations by value, data is only shown for fresh sweet cherries and dried cherries. Canada was the largest market for U.S. fresh sweet cherry exports ($149.7 million), followed by South Korea ($93.7 million). United Kingdom was the largest market for U.S. dried cherry exports (ERS 2018).
United States cherry imports, sweet fresh cherries, were valued at $35.5 million. Chile was the main supplier of fresh sweet cherries ($22 million) (ERS 2021).
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, 2021).
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, 2021).
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, 2020.
- 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, 2021.
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 2021.
Growing Cherries in Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – Cooperative Extension, 2021.
How Many Years Until Your Tree Bears Fruit, Stark Bro’s, n.d.
Non-Citrus Fruits and Nuts, National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS), USDA, 2021.
Sweet Cherry Orchard Establishment in the Pacific Northwest: Important Considerations for Success, Pacific Northwest Extension (Oregon, Washington and Idaho State Universities), 2013.
Cherry Imports/Export, ERS, USDA, 2021
- 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.
- 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.
- OSU scientists invent rain-resistant coating that cuts cherry cracking in half, Long, L., and Kaiser, C., Oregon State University, 2015.