Cherry producers work to bounce back after streak of tough years

The U.S. sweet cherry production forecast for 2024 is 355,000 tons, slightly higher than the 2023 total. In Washington, the largest producing State, total production for 2024 is forecast at 185,000 tons, down 11 percent from 2023. In Oregon, total production for 2024 is forecast at 43,000 tons, up 11 percent from 2023.

YAKIMA, Wash. - A fruit that dates back to the ancient Romans but has woven its way into American society appears to be on an uptick in production despite a string of tumultuous years.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that both sweet and tart cherries are expected to exceed the 2023 harvest totals, with West Coast states producing approximately 355,000 tons of what is often referred to as nature’s candy.

Washington state is home to more than half of the country’s sweet cherry production, and despite recent struggles, growers are cautiously optimistic that growing conditions are turning a corner.

"The cherry growing season is a delicate dance," remarked Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Fruit Association. "We start picking cherries around late May or early June and continue through mid to late August."

DeVaney said this season’s crop is showing exceptional quality, possibly helped by a series of cold weather days late in the season. 

"This winter we had some weather that damaged the forming buds…But one of the advantages of when you have a slightly lighter crop is that it often lets the fruit get larger," DeVaney stated.



A heat dome in 2021, record snowfall in 2022 and roller coaster temperatures in 2023 pushed some producers to the brink, leading to the United States Department of Agriculture to issue a disaster designation for cherry growers in Washington state.

"Last year, Washington’s cherry growers lost around half their crop to extreme weather. Now, as they prepare to kick off their new season, this disaster designation from the secretary of Agriculture will help growers access federal assistance to keep this $1 billion industry going — and ensure Washington’s famously delicious sweet cherries make it into shopping carts," Senator Maria Cantwell stated in a news release earlier this year.

Loans of up to $500,000 were made available to the farmers of the state’s nearly 1,500 cherry production facilities.

U.S. Drought Monitor
(FOX Weather)


Farms with damaged trees are likely facing an extended period of inactivity, as sweet cherries typically take 4 to 7 years to become productive, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

Once picked, cherries have a shorter shelf life compared to other fruits, requiring farmers to get the products to the store within days of harvest.


Prices have been trending lower but still remain in Goldilocks zone DeVaney says that will ensure producers will still make money and consumers won’t be turned away by sticker shock.

"The cherries remain one of those fruits that are really seasonal. You enjoy them during the summer, and from there, they’re not going to be available anymore," said DeVaney.