California stone fruit crop has shifted toward the late season
by Rand Green | August 22, 2010
Nearly every commodity in California so far this year has started later than
usual due to an unusually cool, wet spring, and peaches, plums and nectarines
were among the items affected.
But as the weather has warmed to near seasonal norms, in some commodities
such as table grapes it now appears that the start dates for later varieties will
be closer to normal. Not so for stone fruit.
"The crop has shifted later," and for some inexplicable reason, the later
varieties now appear to be even more delayed than the early varieties,
according to Gary Van Sickle, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement
in Reedley, CA.
"Our timing [on most varieties] is anywhere from six days to 12 days later than
last year, and we are getting just slightly later for some reason" as the season
progresses, Mr. Van Sickle said Aug. 6.
The O'Henry peach, "which is kind of the beginning of the late-season
varieties," would normally have started "a week ago," he said. It was now
"scheduled to start in another week or 10 days."
That would actually make the first pick for that variety more than two weeks
Roughly 40 percent of the crop still remained to be harvested as of Aug. 6, he
said. That is more than normal for the date, but only because the harvest
dates have shifted, not because the crop is larger, Mr. Van Sickle emphasized.
For the peach sector, it has been a tough year. "A couple of years ago, when
we had those big crops" and prices were low due to overproduction, many in
the industry were saying that when the combined volume for peaches, plums
and nectarines gets down to about midway between 40 million and 50 million
boxes, "things will be much better."
This year the combined volume is in that mid-40-million-box range, but "it
is not necessarily any better." The reason is that this year there is a big
national peach crop, and California peaches have had a challenge competing
during peak season.
The cool, wet spring had "a devastating effect on the startup of the season,"
Mr. Van Sickle said. "We had just a tremendous problem ... getting into
volume," and going into Memorial Day weekend, many packingsheds that "had
pre-sales of fruit for that holiday" had to cancel orders. "Many of those sheds
lost the equivalent of probably a million dollars of business" due to the crop
being a week late in that timeframe.
"Then in early June, as the California crop finally started to come on, "we
immediately bumped heads with the Southeast, which had a huge [peach]
crop" with a lot of small sizes, he said. As a result, California shippers did not
pack a lot of fruit that normally would have been packed, particularly size 64
and in some cases even size 56 fruit, so varieties are coming in under
However, "we are now at a point in the peach deal where ... the inventory
situation is starting to get better," plus the current varieties "produce all big
sizes, so now we don't have the small fruit issue," he said.
Peach prices also affected the nectarine market, but nectarines have been
packing out just over estimate. Plums, too, are coming in close to estimates.
"We still have a lot of nectarines left" and a good amount of peaches. In
plums, "our last major variety, Angelino," was yet to come, he said.
Volume will taper off toward the end of September, although "we still have a
significant number of peaches that will go through the month of October," he