Mother Nature’s mixed bag of weather during the 2011 stone fruit production season will affect Washington state’s supplies in varying degrees.
According to James Michael, promotions director for the Washington State Fruit Commission, tonnage for this year’s apricot crop will be tight. Apricots “have a similar bloom cycle as cherries,” he told The Produce News May 23.
Peaches and nectarines — which have a later production timetable — are faring well. “Overall, it was a decent winter. We’re not seeing the shock to the trees,” he stated.
Washington’s plum and prune volume will show a decline this season, but volume reduction is not related to weather.
Taking apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and prunes into account, Mr. Michael provided this assessment. “It won’t be a record size crop. But we’ll have good volume.”
While winter conditions will affect some volume, Mr. Michael said that the eating profile of this year’s stone fruit will be excellent. “Warm long days and extra sunlight contribute to the eating profile,” he stated. “A slow-growing season means a good flavor profile.” The size profile is expected to be good for all commodities.
Statistics on Washington’s stone fruit production acreage were not yet available. A survey of the 2010 crops has been performed, but numbers are not expected to be released until this fall.
Looking at apricots, Mr. Michael said that Washington has increased acreage planted to the fruit. Some trees sustained damage as a result of last November’s sudden freeze and temperature drops during the spring. “Damage was site specific and varied by variety, tree age and location,” he stated. “It’s orchard by orchard.”
Production acreage is located primarily in Washington’s Yakima Valley, although some varieties are grown in more northerly orchards. The harvest generally occurs from the end of June through July. “The last couple of years, we have seen more late-season gourmet varieties coming into production,” he noted. “These can stretch the season.”
The harvest for peaches and nectarines will be delayed by only two to three days when taking weather into account. A few peach varieties are harvested in mid-July, but production generally ramps up in August, with volume peaking around the third week of the month. Activity continues into mid-September.
“One of the strengths of our region is that we come in at the end,” Mr. Michael said. “This leaves a good impression with consumers.”
Washington’s plantings for plums are declining. “It’s one of those fruits that doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” Mr. Michael stated. Production follows a cycle similar to peaches and nectarines.
While sales at retail for fresh plums eaten out of hand are declining, Mr. Michael went on to say, “There is a renaissance in at-home cooking, and people are getting more experimental.” To illustrate, he said that consumers are increasingly using plums to make sauces, and the fruit is even finding its way to the family barbecue.
“Plum jam is hands-down my favorite freezer jam,” he stated.
Mr. Michael said that a market basket ring study conducted by The Perishables Group analyzed shopping dynamics during the 2009 production season. Looking at the habits of consumers on both the East and West coasts, Mr. Michael said that the study found that shoppers who had stone fruit in their baskets spent an average of $29 more on their purchases.
On the marketing front, approximately 50 percent of Washington stone fruits produced stays in the Northwest region. Looking at exports, he said that Canada, Taiwan and Mexico each buys good volumes of Washington’s stone fruit.
The Washington State Fruit Commission continues to educate consumers about the versatility of stone fruit through its web site, www.sweetpreservation.com. Mr. Michael said that the site is an excellent resource for consumers who want to know more about food preservation techniques such as canning and freezing. “These [techniques] are growing in popularity,” he noted, adding that the techniques also help increase volume sold in retail produce departments.
Consumers can also take advantage of downloadable recipes and labels for their favorite commodities.
(For more on Northwest stone fruit, see the June 6, 2011, issue of The Produce News.)