Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) are mainly consumed fresh; however, they may also be frozen, canned, or processed for wine. Frequent losses due to such factors as fluctuating winter temperatures, spring frosts, rain-induced fruit cracking, and bird losses make commercial sweet cherry production a challenge in Kentucky.
U.S. per capita fresh cherry use increased 150 percent (from 0.6 to 1.5 pounds) from 2000 to 2009. Per capita use fluctuated between 1.0 and 1.5 pounds. Most sweet cherries are grown in Washington, Oregon, Michigan and California; California acreage has increased since 2005. Drier, cooler growing conditions in the western states are more conducive to cherry production than Kentucky’s warmer, wetter climate. Potential fresh market outlets in Kentucky include farmers markets and roadside stands. There is strong demand for fresh fruit at these markets, and sweet cherries are not a common crop in Kentucky, making fresh sweet cherries potentially very popular for direct sales. Successful sweet cherry production in Kentucky will require overcoming a number of significant production obstacles, especially preventing bird and wildlife damage and managing risk from freezes.
Consumers look for fresh market sweet cherries to have a deep red, glossy appearance. Fruit should be firm, sweet, and juicy with high flavor. Cultivars vary in their susceptibility to cracking, a physiological problem that can occur following rainfall and high humidity as the fruit nears maturity. Because cracking reduces marketability and increases susceptibility to fruit rots, select cultivars that are less susceptible to this problem. Other desirable traits include bacterial canker and leaf spot resistance, winter hardiness, and late blooming (to avoid spring frost damage).