PERRY, Box Elder County — A bumper crop normally is a good thing for farmers, but some say the unusually large harvest is having the opposite effect.
At Nielson's Fruit, they're picking plenty of peaches these days. Because of the hot summer, the crop is 10 to 14 days early.
"Everything is early this year because of the warm winter we had and dry spring,” said Janna Tyler, owner of Nielson's Fruit at 2055 S. U.S. 89.
That's better than what happened to their sweet cherry crop, which is withering on the branches. The farm also had a bumper crop of cherries. Under normal circumstances, that would be a good thing. But Washington state also had a bumper crop.
Normally, the sweet cherry market in Washington follows the Utah market, and Utah follows the California market.
James Michael, the promotions director for Northwest Cherry Growers, said retailers try to keep cherries stocked throughout the season. The association represents cherry growers in the five-state region of Utah, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
"We kind of dance back and forth year by year on what's available on the shelf space," Michael said. "What I can tell you is that cherries are a very important category items to produce departments, so retailers really want to ensure that they've got a good strong supply. Every year, you are kind of playing a dice roll with six different states and the weather."
There is some overlap between the end of the California cherry season and the beginning of Utah's season, and again with the end of Utah's season and the beginning of Washington's. Michael said that could cause the markets to have too many cherries.
"The price dropped," Tyler said, "and we could not afford to pay our pickers and get the price out of them that we should have gotten because people can buy them elsewhere."
Last year, they had the opposite problem.
"The spring was too wet and too cold, and the bees never pollinated the blossoms," said Clemente Lemus, the orchard manager at Nielson's Fruit, "so they ended up with a 3 percent yield."
Some of the farms ended up with only 1½ percent yield, he said.
The last two years, the crops were about two weeks late. This year, everything is about two weeks early.
"Sometimes we have a hard time because of a lot of moisture; sometimes we have a hard time because it's so dry and dusty," Lemus said.
The cherry-picking season started earlier this year than in 2011 because of weather, Michael said.
"I know in Utah, the growers I have been talking to, they are running almost three weeks ahead of last year," he said. "Keep in mind, last year was an exceptionally late year. It was our latest start ever for the northwest."
Robert McMullin, co-owner of McMullin Orchards in Payson, said the cherry season was earlier this year than a year ago.
"Our (cherry season) went reasonably well," McMullin said. "We were early, so we started the harvest mid-June. … That earlier market wasn't fabulous, but we were able to move our fruit, and we only had half a crop to begin with."
Utah Department of Agriculture spokesman Larry Lewis said Utah ranks sixth in the nation for the production of sweet cherries, having produced 1,080 tons of cherries in 2010.
Washington, which is the top producer of sweet cherries, had 156,000 tons of sweet cherries in 2010.
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