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Good production, ample promotion opportunities for fresh apricots

Apricots, being vulnerable to frost and hail, have taken a hit from inclement weather in some growing areas over the last year or so.

But the 2013 California fresh apricot crop, as of mid-April, was shaping up to be a full crop with good quality and ample promotional opportunities, according to growers in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where the majority of the nation’s fresh apricots are produced.

New plantings, mainly of newer varieties that are deemed to be more desirable by the marketplace because of such attributes as size, flavor and shelf life, are coming into fuller production, sometimes expanding a grower’s total volume but in other cases simply replacing older, less desirable varieties.

Apricots-LA-Apricots on display at the Los Angeles Produce Market. The California apricot crop has escaped weather damage this year and growers are enthusiastic about a high-quality crop that should provide ample opportunities to promote at retail.“We’ve got a lot of acreage of apricots,” grown mostly on the west side of the valley, Dovey Plain of Family Tree Farms Marketing LLC in Reedley, CA, told The Produce News April 17. “For four years, we have been expecting a big crop, and we have had hail or freeze for every one of those years. This year we are halfway through the storm season, and we have had wonderful warm, dry weather, so we are looking at that big crop that we have known is out there.”

The weather to date has been ideal for sizing of the apricots and the production of sugars in the fruit, Ms. Plain said. “We are keeping our fingers crossed” that good weather will continue to prevail into the harvest, but so far, it has been “everything you could want.”

Family Tree Farms expects to be “in full apricot mode by the end of April and all through May,” she said.

Other apricot growers in the same general area appear to have a similar situation, Ms. Plain said.

“Everybody looks good,” she said. “We are trying to get retailers very excited about promoting, because if everybody has the same kind of crop we do, we are going to need movement. We just see around our area, but around here it is a good crop.”

Family Tree’s new plantings would have come into full production three years ago, were it not for weather issues, so the trees are now “definitely at and beyond full maturity,” she said.

Others have newer plantings that will see increased production this year as well, she said, noting that there has been a “planting boom on [fresh market] apricots … over the past few years.” Many of those trees should be in full production this year.

“Statewide, there has been a good set,” said Jim Lucich, a salesman at Blossom Hill Packing-Lucich Santos Farms in Patterson, CA. “There should be more than enough apricots to take care of the industry. So promotable volumes should be accessible to all the buyers.”

Quality “looks good,” he added. “There haven’t been an reports of serious damage” from weather anywhere “up and down the state.” The crop size appears to be good in all growing areas, “and eating quality looks good.”

There are young planting of newer varieties “that are good-eating fruit,” Mr. Lucich said. “There are so many new varieties out now that are going to continue to enhance the consumers’ eating experience that we just look hopefully to continue to have good sales.”

While some of that is new acreage, much of it is “new trees that have been replacing the older varieties that maybe didn’t eat as well,” he said.

As a company, Blossom Hill expects to begin harvesting around the first week in May. “Here in Patterson … we start a little bit later than the guys down south” who should get started the last week in April, he said.

“We are excited about getting a good eating experience to the consumer early in the deal, where they can eat something that will bring them back to the store to buy more,” Mr. Lucich added.

“The apricots look good,” Justin Bedwell, a partner at Bari Produce LLC in Madera, CA, said April 17. “I would say as far as quantity, we are probably looking at an average to maybe slightly larger crop.”

Industrywide, “I’m hearing everybody’s got a good set out there,” he said. “I think there will be enough apricots to go around this year. Mother Nature has been cooperating with everybody. There haven’t been any problems, so it should be a good year.”

For the company, the number of pieces of fruit on a tree has little effect on volume, unless the set is very light. “We try to thin really hard” to get larger-sized fruit, he said.

Bari has about 80 acres of apricots that will be in production this year “that we didn’t have last year,” he said. “Every year, we continue to have more parcels that are coming into production on apricots.”

Currently, Bari is growing just two apricot varieties. “We will start the first weekend of May with Poppycots. That will carry us pretty much through the month.” Toward the end of May and continuing through June, the company will have the Giant Loma variety.

“That is the one we hang our hat on,” Mr. Bedwell said. It has big size and “big flavor” and has better shelf life than “a traditional smaller apricot.”

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, about 90 percent of the apricots grown in the United States come from California. Production in 2011 was nearly 69,000 tons, valued at over $63 million, an increase over 30 percent relative to 2010.

The value of fresh production accounted for 60 percent of this total, with fresh market prices being more than five times higher per ton than processing prices.