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Cool weather delays start of the California fresh fig harvest

by Rand Green | May 26, 2010
FRESNO, CA -- In 2009, California growers shipped about 10 million pounds of fresh figs. "We anticipate probably 11 [million] to 12 million pounds this year," said Karla Stockli, chief executive officer of the California Fig Advisory Board and the California Fresh Fig Growers Association, both based here. "There are a few orchards coming into production that weren't in production for fresh last year."

Trees appear to have good crops on them, and there have been no weather factors that have diminished the crop.

However, the weather has been unseasonably cool throughout the growing period, and that has had the effect of delaying start of the harvest, Ms. Stockli told The Produce News May 19. "We just started two days ago picking the first crop in the desert," the earliest growing area in the state. That is about two- and-a-half weeks later than last year.

Quality looks good, she continued. The rain that has accompanied the cool weather "hasn't harmed the figs. It just delayed the beginning of the harvest." California fresh fig shipments will continue from May through December and into early January.

With most fig varieties, trees set two crops a year: the first, or Breba, crop being smaller and shorter, followed by a brief gap before the start of the main crop. However, production out of various areas in the state allows the seasons to overlap, resulting in greater continuity.

Peak season is typically in August when all varieties are in full production. Stellar Distributing Inc. in Madera, CA, which has fig production both in the southern desert and in the Central Valley, originally expected the desert harvest to start in late April or the first of May, according to Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager.

But when The Produce News spoke with Mr. Cappelluti May 7, he was still waiting for the season to start, and his customers were eager for the product. "I think we're in the same boat as everybody right now," he said.

He expected by May 20 to be going on several varieties of figs -- Black Missions, Sierras and Brown Turkeys. Although the crop was delayed, he said that the quality was as good as he has ever seen in his 25 years in figs.

In the Central Valley, Mr. Cappelluti expected the harvest to start around June 5-10. "The Black Mission Crop in this area is better than last year," he said. "Our acreage is up, and it looks like we will have a good-sized crop, but we are late around a week," said Chris Kragie, deciduous fruit manager for Western Fresh Marketing in Madera, CA, which also has desert and Central Valley production.

Western Fresh expected to start first season Brown Turkey figs around the last week of May, with the main season for Calimyrnas starting right after July 4 followed shortly by the start of main crop Kadota, Black Mission and Brown Turkey. Several of the company's growers have increased acreage this year.

"It is going to be a bigger crop than last year, but everything seems to be coming on a little later," said Marc Marchini, sales and marketing manager for figs at J. Marchini & Son Inc. in Le Grand, CA, which grows Black Mission figs in the Merced County area.

In 2009, Marchini experienced freeze damage to its first season crop of Missions, but this year there is a "normal" crop with larger-than-average fruit size, he said.

J&R Orchards in Chowchilla, CA, which grows 3,000 acres of figs in Madera County, expected this year's harvest to start about mid-June with first- season Black Missions, according to Richard DeBenedetto, president. The main season will start around the first of August when all varieties will come into production within about a week of each other.

The United States is ranked third in the world in production of dried figs with an annual production of approximately 11,000 tons, according to the California Fig Advisory Board. California produces 100 percent of the nation's dried figs and 98 percent of the fresh figs. Shippers say that demand for fresh figs is strong and seems to be increasing every year.

(For more on the California fig deal, see the May 31, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)