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REEDLEY, CA -- A net decrease in producing acreage resulting largely from pullouts exceeding replacement plantings is a major factor in a smaller crop of California peaches and nectarines, including both traditional yellow-flesh varieties and the Summerwhite or white-flesh varieties this year.

The California Tree Fruit Agreement's official estimate for Summerwhite peaches is 5.4 million packages, down from 6.2 million packages last year, a decline of about 11 percent.

The nectarine estimate for 2009 is 4.7 million packages, down from 5.4 million packages last year, a decline of about 13 percent.

The estimates were finalized April 30 at the spring meetings of the boards and committees of the California Tree Fruit Agreement.

According to a CTFA press release, the total 2008 crop was the second largest in the history of the state's peach, plum and nectarine industry, and an overall decline in those three commodities of 14 percent "more closely reflect[s] the production levels seen during the three years between 2004 and 2006. A return to production levels around the 50 million package level is welcomed by California growers and shippers as it still presents excellent opportunities for domestic retailers to promote, while also providing consistent supplies to trading partners in strategic export markets."

Prodded by low market prices in 2009, growers increased pullouts since last season by 54 percent more than the five-year average, the release stated. Winter and spring growing conditions were described as "fairly typical" with some frost, hail and wind damage but no major crop losses. The major effect of a March frost was to thin the crop on the tree, thus reducing thinning costs for many growers. Winter chilling hours were good.

The timing of the crop, variety by variety, is similar to last year, which is four or five days later than the historical average

"When we look at the number of trees that have been pulled out ... I really have a feeling that we are moving into an era that we haven't seen in a while," with 48 million to 50 million boxes of peaches, plums and nectarines probably being the "maximum crop," said Richard (Rick) Eastes, vice president of sales and marketing for Fruit Patch Sales LLC in Dinuba, CA. "We may have that for a while, because the prices haven't been that good for growers to want to plant new varieties." New varieties will continue to be planted to replace some pullouts, he said. But he expects that "this thing is going to stabilize at a lower level than we had in the past."

The first white-flesh peach shipments of the season were Snow Angel, which started April 23 and Spring Snow, which started April 26. The May Saturn or Early Saturn, a flat or saucer-shaped variety, started on May 4. All will be down in volume from last year. Spring Snow is the season's largest-volume Summerwhite peach. It is estimated at 506,000 boxes this year, down from 632,000 last year. Summer Sweet, the second largest variety, will be off 100,000 boxes at 458,000, with a June 28 start date, and Snow Giant is estimated at 422,000 packages, down from 511,000, with a July 12 start.

The only major white peach variety to see an increase is Ice Princess, estimated at 241,000 boxes, up 11,000. It is expected to start June 14.

In Summerwhite nectarines, every major variety is projected to have a smaller volume this year except Candy Pearl, which is estimated at 245,000 packages, up from 202,000 last year. It will start around June 26.

The largest-volume varieties are Grand Pearl, estimated at 390,000 boxes, down 95,00, with a June 26 start, August Pearl, down 59,000 boxes at 400,000 with a July 23 start, and Arctic Snow, down 84,000 boxes at 400,000, with an Aug. 4 start.

(For more on Summerwhite fruit, see the May 25 issue of The Produce News.)