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Plum and nectarine prices are expected to stay strong

by Tim Linden | July 29, 2010
With the fading of July, both plum and nectarine production from California should remain fairly steady, so the firm prices that have accompanied the deals for most of the season should prevail.

Dale Janzen, director of industry relations for the California Tree Fruit Agreement, said that the significant acreage removal of stone fruits in California's San Joaquin Valley following the 2008 season "have turned the late-season [volume] peaks into foothills. Looking at the upcoming varieties, I don’t see anything but steady supplies. We’ve gotten through the July crunch."

Mr. Janzen predicted that peach prices would strengthen and that the already strong market for plums and nectarines would continue. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market News Branch quoted plums prices from California July 27 in the $19 to $20 f.o.b. range for large fruit. Nectarines were mostly $16 to $17, while California peaches were in the $11 to $12 range. California produces the vast majority of domestic plums and nectarines but shares the peach stage with production from many different regions including South Carolina, Georgia, Michigan and New Jersey.

A well-known California grower-shipper who asked not to be identified confirmed the agreement’s assessment for nectarines and plums but did not paint as rosy a picture for peaches. With the popularity of featuring locally grown fresh produce at retail increasing, he believes that the California peach market will remain soft until late August. Many retailers on the East Coast, he reasoned, feature peaches from their local districts, which he expects to fill a good portion of the pipeline for the next month. “From late August into September, I think we should see a strengthening of the peach market and pretty good prices,” he said.

Dave Parker, director of marketing for SGS in Traver, CA, concurred, saying that the crops are lighter than they have historically been, which has led to a strong market for both plums and nectarines. Surveying the situation for the next several weeks is difficult at best, but he said that there appears to be no reason to expect that the current marketing conditions will dramatically change. “The plum crop hasn’t been bountiful this year, and I don’t think that is going to change,” he said. “And I see a steady supply of nectarines for the next month or so.”

A look at the numbers reveals the story. In 2008, California stone fruit shippers sent about 59 million cartons of peaches, nectarines and plums to the market. As a result, f.o.b. prices were low all season and most growers were awash in red ink at the end of the deal. Significant acreage was pulled after that season, and the 2009 stone fruit crop came in at only about 46 million cartons. This year’s crop is a bit larger, but is still not expected to reach 48 million cartons.

Indications are that retail promotions for California stone fruit have been fairly good this year according to handlers, and they expect a steady supply of promotions through the end of summer.

Mr. Janzen said that the California stone fruit crop is at the peak of its season with both the shipping and tasting quality at their best. He added that each of the three fruits are moving into varieties that can be called classics because of their longevity on the scene. In August, Elegant Lady is one of the top peach varieties, Honey Royal is a major nectarine variety and plum shippers will be sending Friars to the marketplace.