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It won't be a record crop, but the 2010 California kiwifruit harvest is expected to yield a packout that is up significantly from last year and on the high side of average.

According to Nick Matteis, the assistant manager of the California Kiwifruit Commission, the commission’s executive committee met Sept. 29, just as the new harvest was getting underway, and approved an estimate of 7.5 million to 8 million tray-equivalents for the 2010 crop. That is a jump from the official 6.5 million-tray estimate made earlier this summer.

Part of what changed, according to Mr. Matteis, is that mild temperatures during most of the growing season have enabled the fruit to size more than expected.

The northern growing districts have a heavy set, and the southern growing districts have a good set, he said.

"The crop is definitely on the larger side," commission President Chris Zanobini told The Produce News Sept. 28, the day prior to the executive committee meeting. “We are right on the cusp of harvest,” and growers are “very optimistic.”

The crop is manifesting “the potential for exceptional fruit quality and excellent sizing, and I think sizing is what is going to make up the difference in the size of the crop. Big fruit makes for more boxes,” he continued.

“The marketers, I think, are looking at the potential for a good market,” Mr. Zanobini said. “When you have good fruit size, it provides a lot of opportunities to supply good-quality fruit to the market.”

Although the crop size now appears to be on the large side, it still will be “within the historical averages,” he said. However, it is “definitely on the higher side” of the average range.

Historically, the industry has had crops as high as 9 million trays. “I think the potential is still there” for crops of that size,” Mr. Zanobini said. “If you had a full crop everywhere and all the optimum conditions, I think that potential still exists.” The current crop is “not a record breaker, but I think it definitely has excellent potential” from a marketing standpoint.

The timing of the harvest is close to normal, which came as something of a surprise to the industry, since cool spring and summer temperatures have pushed back starting times for most fruit crops grown in California by anywhere from one to three weeks.

With the harvest for kiwifruit typically starting in early fall, the arrival of cooler temperatures seems to signal the fruit that it is “time to come off,” Mr. Zanobini said. “There was some discussion a few weeks ago” during the usually hot late-summer period that the unusually cool night-time temperatures, for the time of year, were triggering the fruit to mature.

While most other crops in California are “about 10 days late, or maybe a little more,” he said, “it seems like kiwifruit is going to be right on time.”

Kiwifruit acreage in California is “fairly stable,” he said. However, there has been some change in the variety mix. “There were a number of different vineyards that were converted over a few years ago to Golden Kiwi,” but that variety “just didn’t perform very well in most areas of California.”

There are “a couple of areas where it is still being grown,” he continued. But “in general, I think it needs, maybe, a higher humidity. So a lot of those vineyards have been converted back” to the emerald green Hayward variety.

(For more on California kiwifruit, see the Oct. 11, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)