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Growing Cherries

Washington State grows more sweet cherries than any other state? In fact, we grow half of all of the sweet cherries grown in this country! Cherry harvest begins in June and lasts through August. This year, a late freeze hurt many of the orchards in central Washington so the total cherry crop is expected to be smaller than average this year. In an average year, a sweet cherry tree will produce 800 cherries. Most Washington cherries are grown in the Yakima Valley, with 12,000 acres; followed by the Wenatchee area with 9,500 acres. Last year, Washington’s sweet cherry crop broke records. Our growers produced 23.1 million boxes weighing 20 pounds each. In 2011, Washington’s cherry crop was worth $534 million. One quarter of Washington’s sweet cherry crop is exported. Stemilt Growers, based in Wenatchee, Washington is the world’s largest shipper of sweet cherries.

Growing fruit is a year-round job. In the spring, buds open into flowers that attract bees for pollination. Tiny new fruit begins to grow. As the fruit grows, it must be protected from insects and diseases as well as being fed and watered. When it’s ripe, each piece of fruit is picked by hand. Cherry trees can grow over 50 feet tall. Grower must prune trees to about 12 feet so they can be harvested. Cherries are all harvested by hand. It takes about 30 people a day to pick an acre of cherries. That costs about $2,600 per acre and makes up 44% of total production costs. Our trading partners have a zero tolerance for cherry fruit fly larvae. If even one larvae is found, the entire shipment is rejected. Since over $130 million worth of cherries are exported each year, pest control is very important. Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) inspectors are stationed at each cherry packing facility during the harvest season to check fruit for insects as it comes to the packinghouse.

Rainier - the mountain or the cherry?  Both are in Washington!

The sweetest of the sweet cherries is the Rainier Cherry! These are yellow cherries. They were developed in Prosser by researchers from Washington State University.

How to select the best cherries

Look for Washington cherries in stores and fruit stands from June through August. Cherries ripen on the tree and are generally on the grocery store shelf within a day or two making them one of the freshest items available. Choose firm, plump, shiny cherries with green stems and avoid cherries that are soft or have brown spots. Keep cherries refrigerated until consuming.

Health benefits of cherries

Cherries are a healthy snack. A serving size of 21 cherries has less than 100 calories!