Few things signal summer’s arrival in the Flathead like the red-stained hands and faces of those hording around east-shore cherry stands. But as unseasonably cold weather hit western Montana last week, anxiety spiked over fears that the spring snow would damage this year’s harvest of Flathead Lake cherries.
“The crop is going to be a little light this year,” says Heidi Johnson, owner of The Orchard at Flathead Lake.
Johnson says that while the snow might have worried some, the real threat to the harvest came weeks ago, when temperatures dropped below freezing during the blossom. She says other growers are already seeing drops in their annual harvest by as much as 25 to 50 percent. “That last snow didn’t hurt us as much as the cool weather during the blossom.”
“It was snowing like crazy, but it was only 37 degrees outside,” recalls Dale Nelson, president of the Flathead Lake Cherry Growers, a co-op of more than 100 commercial growers. He agrees that the temperature, not the snow, poses the real danger, and predicts the co-op’s annual harvest will bring in between 2.5 and 3 million pounds. Although this is an average annual load, it comes on the heels of last year’s $7 million crop of more than 4 million pounds.
“Following a bumper crop year, you’ll be a little below average on your harvest,” Nelson says.
Overall, Nelson’s not worried. With Montana’s cherry harvest coming so late in the year, market demand—and prices—should be high. Plus, he thinks that after this year’s slower warm-up, delayed bloom and generally colder weather, this will be the latest harvest in 10 years.
“We’ll probably not be into our major harvest until August 5,” Nelson says. “In commodities, the later you are the better prices are.”