Sweet news: It’s cherry season!

The great Columbia Basin cherry harvest is in full swing. Cherry trees are producing their luscious fruit in orchards and neighborhood yards throughout our region.
cherries-1

You may be fortunate enough to have a cherry tree in your yard —but even for those of us who don’t — it’s usually only a short drive to a nearby orchard to satisfy the craving for fresh and delicious cherries.

Cherry season not only provides fresh fruit, it also adds nearly $385.2 million dollars to Washington’s $9.12 billion agricultural economy. Washington is first in the nation for sweet cherry production and third in the nation for the tart cherry production. Our cherry growers produced 177,500 tons of cherries in 2013.

It’s not just Washingtonians who are enjoying the harvest, throughout the U.S. there’s a one in two chance that people are eating Washington-grown cherries.

From early June to late August, cherry harvest brings in over 80,000 workers through the area. Seasonal employment peaks in July with an estimated 90,000 workers. For the past couple of years, cherry orchards have increased the number of workers they employ, showing a growing trend and expanding industry and labor demand.

Maria Montano, of ESD, and farmer Charlie Slover. Maria helps migrant seasonal farm workers find jobs with farmers like Charlie.

Maria Montano, of ESD, and farmer Charlie Slover. Maria helps migrant seasonal farm workers find jobs with farmers like Charlie.

In fact, the production of cherries dominates the demand for seasonal and migrant labor in Washington. Median wages in 2013 for cherry harvest in Washington State were at $5.50 per 30-lb. which shows a $.50 cent increase when compared to a couple of years before.

Average hourly earnings for cherry workers were at $15.65 in 2013. Average hourly earnings in cherries respond sharply to seasonal harvest demands in part because the harvest season is relatively short for different cherry varieties and the fresh storage period is also relatively short compared to other fruits such as apples.

So whether you enjoy cherries from your yard or from the market, take a moment to savor the knowledge that cherries provide more than a momentary delight, they’re also helping to sweeten our economy.

Ajsa Suljic is Employment Security’s regional labor economist for Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Garfield, Franklin and Walla Walla counties.

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