(KPAX) POLSON — Popular cherries grown off Flathead Lake are in peak harvest, and they’re being sold in local grocery stores and shipped across the world.
“I think a lot of the market this year is domestic because there is just a big demand for cherries, but there are overseas markets. A lot of Northwest cherries which we are considered a part of, are sold in Asia, Europe and all over the world,” said Monson Fruit Company Field Representative Brian Campbell.
Campbell expects roughly 1.2 million pounds of Flathead Lake cherries to be harvested this season. The Flathead Lake Cherry Grower Cooperative manages 80 Flathead orchards, roughly 500 acres of cherries.
Campbell said the crop is roughly 60% of last years haul which brought in 2 million pounds. But despite the low crop outlook, he said this year’s fruit is in excellent condition.
“With smaller volumes, we’re able to time our picking a little bit better, so we’re picking it right at its prime, we don’t have to rush and try to get a bigger crop,” said Campbell.
Flathead Lake Cherry farmer and COOP Board Member Mark St. Sauver said orchards are taking extra precautions this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Free testing sites have been set up for cherry workers along with social distancing protocols.
“We’ve been taking their temperature every morning and asking them if they’re having any symptoms of the coronavirus, so far we’ve had no issues,” said St. Sauver.
The Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Warehouse on Finley Point is where Monson Fruit Company receives the cherries and hydro-cools the fruit down to 34 degrees. The fruit is stored in a cooler before it is shipped out within hours to their packing facility in Selah, Washington.
Campbell said one perk on the job is being the official cherry taste tester, helping determine when cherries are ready to be picked.
“I don’t know how many I eat in a day, but that’s a good indication of their ripeness and their quality is a taste test, so I taste a lot of cherries,” said Campbell.
Campbell said the harvest started on July 25 and is expected to run through Aug. 12.