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Northwest cherry harvest starts to roll with some favorable warm weather

Rainier cherries cling to the branch in the Ray French Orchard in Richland, Washington, on Monday.
Anna King
/
Northwest News Network
Rainier cherries cling to the branch in the Ray French Orchard in Richland, Washington, on Monday.

The French family expects a crowd for cherries this warm week.

Richland’s Ray French Orchard has been a you-pick since 1988. They market sweet cherries, ‘cots, peaches and apples. But this week – it’s the start of cherries.

Family members hustle around fruit boxes, placing them just so. They’ll be used as tables for the scales and register under a tent. Another grown son works to line out the parking lot in the field with posts.

Watching all the action from the front porch is the orchard’s owner, Robin French. He’s been on this farm since ‘63, when his dad bought the ground. Later, the family decided to go to you-pick.

“We just didn’t have the land to continue making a larger farm,” French explained. “And I wasn’t interested in alfalfa or potatoes or anything like that – I like trees.”

Robin French, 71, says this year cherries are plentiful, but not branch-breaking. But a few less Rainers and Bings means even sweeter fruit.
Anna King
/
Northwest News Network
Robin French, 71, says this year cherries are plentiful, but not branch-breaking. But a few less Rainers and Bings means even sweeter fruit.

French wears a trucker hat, a cherry-colored plaid shirt and worn jeans. He leads me over the nearby Rainier cherry orchard – he’s got about two acres.

“You can see the different stages of color,” French said. “The darker ones are usually sweeter. These guys here. You get the dark blush. That’s why I try to tell people how to pick’em. They usually taste better. Yep.”

This year’s fruit has about 16 to 21 brix, or sugars. It’s been about perfect weather, except for a bit of wind.

So, what’s the wind do? Well, it rubs the cherries, French said.

“Yah, the wind really shows up on the Rainiers ‘pecially when they get ripe,” French said. “They start turning brown a little bit, the skin. And they still taste good, it just hurts the appearance somewhat. But they’re really tasty.”

And it’s been windy in central Washington recently. So in the market, you might see a bit of that brown. Don’t let it scare ya. This year, Northwest fruit growers are planning to pick around 18 to 19 million boxes. Each box weighs 20 pounds. That’s a good sized crop – but not a monster. French’s word of advice? A bit lighter crop means each cherry will have more sugar. He loves teaching everyone how to pick cherries.

“Not to pull them off the stems, cause they keep longer with stems on ‘em,” French said.

Rainier cherries are the favorite of Robin French, who owns a you-pick orchard in Richland, Washington.
Anna King
/
Northwest News Network
Rainier cherries are the favorite of Robin French, who owns a you-pick orchard in Richland, Washington.

It’s good news to have a decent crop this year for cherry growers.

Growers have had problems: 2021 saw a heat dome, 2022 snow on blooms ruined pollination. And just last year, California’s crop was late flooding the markets. Now, Northwest growers are strapped.

Still, Northwest cherry season is fleeting. Here at Ray French Orchard – the cherries will last just for about 10 days. Then, the trees are picked clean.

*Editor’s note: Shraddha Pradhan contributed to this report. 

Copyright 2024 NWNews

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.