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Cherry numbers are low this year — and growers aren’t sure why

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Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2013 6:57 pm

This year’s cherry harvest is significantly lighter than last year’s record numbers, say local industry experts. But no one is quite sure what caused the low numbers.

“It’s a light to moderate crop. The fruit is coming in quick and finishing quick,” said Tom Gotelli, plant manager for O.G. Packing in Stockton.

There is some speculation that growers in the southern San Joaquin County are seeing a better harvest than northern farmers, but County Agricultural Commissioner Scott Hudson isn’t so sure.

“That’s what I’ve heard, but I’ve been around long enough to know that it’s at the end of the season when everyone is packed that we get the full picture,” he said.

But folks at Lodi packing sheds say they are getting a heavier crop from southern county growers.

“As far as the industry is concerned, we’re getting a majority of our fruit from the south,” said Matt Nowak, account manager for Delta Packing Company.

The volume of fruit coming from Lodi, Linden and Stockton is nowhere near the record tonnage from last year, he added. The Lodi-area fruit Nowak has seen so far is of good quality, with some slight wind damage.

There are a few theories floating around about why the crop is so light.

One, from Hudson, is the cold weather that snuck into spring this year. Another theory is that the pollinator plants came into bloom earlier this year than the regular fruit bearing trees, so the timing was off for much of the crop.

Hudson also relayed reports of more fruit than usual dropping from trees before harvest.

At O.G. Packing, Bing cherries are coming in quickly, said Gotelli.

Gotelli reported a light-to-moderate crop, all growers considered, and a stable market of buyers. Gotelli, too, has a theory for the light return.

“We think it got too warm during bloom. That’s what most people are saying,” he said. “Right or wrong, we don’t know.”

A light crop doesn’t mean a bad crop, said Joe Valente, orchard and vineyard manager for Kautz Farms.

“The quality is good. The size is good. There just is not a lot of them,” he said. “The fruit just didn’t seem to set on the tree.”

Valente also mentioned problems with the labor supply.

“For us, it was even worse than last year. Even in the vineyard, work was short,” he said.

Right now is the peak of harvest. More fruit will come in over the next two or three weeks, but the volume will taper off dramatically.

Does the light harvest now mean poor numbers for the year?

“I never really try to bank on that too much,” said Hudson. “A lot depends on relative quality.”

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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