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California fresh fig crop expected to be up for 2011 season

by Rand Green | May 17, 2011

The 2011 California fresh fig harvest started in early May and is expected to continue through the end of the year, carrying over into the first half of January.

"With the combination of above average rainfall and warming temperatures, we anticipate outstanding quality and production," said Karla Stockli, chief executive officer of the California Fresh Fig Growers Association in Fresno, CA, in a written statement to The Produce News received May 10.

Pint baskets of fresh Calimyrna figs from California. 

"In 2010, California growers shipped over 12 million pounds of fresh figs. Early indications from California's fresh fig growers support 12 million to 13 million pounds production for 2012," she said in the statement.

Many varieties of figs produce two crops. The first and smaller crop, variously called Breva or Breba, is followed by the main crop which, according to Ms. Stockli, "typically peaks in August when all varieties are in full production."

The state's main producing areas are "the Coachella Valley, Northern California, and the central San Joaquin Valley, which includes Madera, Chowchilla, Merced and Fresno," she said.


"There are five primary varieties, each with its own special flavor profile and seemingly endless ways to enjoy them," Ms. Stockli said in the statement:


• Black Mission figs, available mid-May through mid-November, have a purple and black skin "with a deep earthy flavor like a Cabernet."

• Brown Turkey figs are light purple to black "with robust flavor like a Pinot Noir," and are available mid-May through December.

• Calimyrna figs, which start in mid-July and go through September, have a pale yellow skin and "a butter and nutty flavor like a Chardonnay."

• Kadota figs, running from mid-June through October, have a creamy amber skin and "a light flavor like a Sauvignon Blanc."

• Sierra figs have light-colored skin and "a flavor like a Riesling."

According to the statement, "the industry expects to continue to see a slight increase in new plantings of figs throughout the state of California, which will contribute to a consistent flow of fresh figs into the market from mid-May to January and a consistent supply of dried figs throughout the year."

The timing of the 2011 crop seems to vary from one grower to another, even within the same growing districts. Some are seeing a little earlier start than last year, some more normal start, and some a later start.

"It's going to be kind of similar to last year," but a little lighter and not as late, said Chris DeBenedetto, who handles sales at J&R Orchards in Chowchilla, CA. "Overall, it looks to be more of a normal year for us compared to last year" which ran "about two weeks behind" normal.

"The first crop of Black Missions doesn't look nearly as big as last year" for J&R Orchards, he said. On the main crops of Black Mission as well as Calimyrna, and Brown Turkey, it appeared that "we are not going to have as much actually as we did last year, either."

Marc Marchini, fig sales and marketing manager for J. Marchini Farms in Le Grand, CA, which grows figs in Madera County, said that in all of the growing locations in the state, "from what I see," appear to have "good crops."

For Marchini Farms, as of May 9, "the crops look a little below average," he said. An anticipated mid-June start was "a little bit earlier than last year," he said.

Stellar Distributing Inc. in Madera, CA, started packing Black Mission figs in the Imperial Valley in the Southern California desert on May 5, which was 10 days earlier than last year, according to Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager. Brown Turkey, Sierra and Tiger started within the next few days. In Madera, he expected to be into those four varieties plus Kadotas by early June.

"For a while, we thought we were a week ahead. Now I think we are about a week behind because of the weather," said George Kragie, president of Western Fresh Marketing in Madera, CA, on May 6.

But "we are happy about the weather" because the cool, wet spring with abundant snowpack in the mountains led to an increase in water allotment for the west side of the San Joaquin Valley (now at 75 percent of contract). Now "we can irrigate more" without having to buy more expensive water from other sources, "so the trees will be better," Mr. Kragie said.