Northwest cherry crops facing disease and decreased harvest

Cherry industry officials in Oregon and Washington state estimate a tree infection has substantially depleted the fruit for this year’s harvest

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Cherry industry officials in Oregon and Washington state estimate a tree infection has substantially depleted the fruit for this year's harvest.

The infection known as little cherry disease has chopped an estimated 40 million pounds (18 million kilograms) of cherries from the forthcoming harvest, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Sunday.

The Northwest harvest begins around the end of May every year.

Nearly 21 million boxes of cherries weighing 20 pounds (9 kilograms) each are expected to be picked in Oregon and Washington, down about 20% from a record-setting 2017 crop.

The disease involves a phytoplasma similar to a bacteria and a separate virus causing similar symptoms that are spread by insects including leafhoppers and mealybugs, officials said.

Northwest cherry growers have to cut down infected trees to prevent the disease from spreading before entire orchards are reduced to stumps.

Little cherry disease has devastated growers in California and Canada. Northwest farmers can request training from Washington State University Extension staff or obtain a booklet to help identify fruit affected by the disease.

“They’re small and pale, but they’re either bland or bitter,” said Tianna DuPoint, an extension staff member in Wenatchee, Washington. “So they won’t hurt you if you eat them, but they’re not marketable.”

B.J. Thurlby of the Northwest Cherry Growers industry group said the crop will be reduced largely because of little cherry disease and spring frost.

Exports to China will be down, but may be offset by exports to other parts of Asia, Thurlby said.

“We’re expecting at least two million boxes just to (South) Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam,” Thurlby said. “So that should be a good export deal for us.”