Cherry Crop is Early, Robust

Though the sweet Flathead cherries are ahead of schedule, farmers expect a big and healthy July harvest

By Clare Menzel
Water droplets cling to cherries growing in The Orchard at Flathead Lake in Yellow Bay. Beacon File Photo

This April, in the absence of rainstorms, storms of bees descended on cherry orchards around Flathead Lake to pollenize trees 10 days early.

“They’re kind of fair weather flyers, and we had five or six straight days of perfect weather for them, so they were just going crazy,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Association. “I think they pollenized everything.”

Now, as the first heat waves of summer roll through, the fruit of their labor is emerging. Johnson predicts that the harvest will peak in early, rather than late, July this year.

“We’ve got a lot a lot of green cherries right now, a lot of green cherries,” he said.

By Johnson’s estimation, 2015’s short crop, which was early by 10 to 14 days, yielded just 30 to 40 percent of the normal harvest. This summer, though, he expects the cherry orchards to put on a big, red show.

“We have a way better crop than last year,” Johnson said, also carefully noting that it’s early in the season and “things can still change.”

Though farmers in Washington, Oregon, and California produce the bulk of the nation’s cherries, their crop historically ripens early and Flathead cherries fill supermarket shelves late in the season. Johnson is assured that the Northwest saw enough early growth to push the entire region’s growing schedule forward, meaning Flathead farmers still won’t have to compete with the glut of early-season produce.

The biggest challenge with timing as of yet is for Gary and Susan Snow, of Tabletree Enterprises, an award-winning Canadian juicing operation that makes use of culled, or unwanted, cherries. The husband-and-wife team, who worked for two decades on Susan’s family cherry farm in British Columbia before establishing Tabletree in 2010, had planned to open a processing center this summer in a Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Association facility at Finley Point. But the 6,000-square-foot building, which the Snows share with local farmers, needed to be retrofitted for food processing, and construction isn’t yet complete.

“All hell’s going to break loose when they harvest,” Gary Snow said. “It wouldn’t be compatible for people trying to do harvest and construction, going in and out the same doors. We just ran out of time.”

So the Snows are putting construction on hold until the window between cherry and apple harvests. In the meantime, they will juice summer produce at the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, a food processing, research, and development facility in Ronan.

“You can never plan. [The harvest] happens when it wants to, not when it’s convenient for you,” Gary said.

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