view current print edition




Near-perfect weather promises strong crop of California tree fruit with good quality

Growers and shippers of California tree fruit agreed that weather to date has been just about ideal for the 2013 crop -- in contrast to some recent years when freezing temperatures, hailstorms and other weather disruptions have caused problems.

Although some see slightly lighter-than-normal sets in certain varieties, in general the cherry, apricot, peach, nectarine, plum, aprium and plumcot orchards up and down the state appear to have good sets, with the potential for yielding full --12-Summerfruit-cropWhite peaches on the tree in California's San Joaquin Valley. but not excessively heavy -- crops of fruit with good size, good color, good flavor and generally good quality.

Timing is said to be about a day or two ahead of last year.

The only weather issue so far seems to have been wind, which may have caused limited cosmetic damage in some locations.

With regard to the state's apricot crop, "I'm hearing everybody's got a good set out there," said Justin Bedwell, a partner at Bari Produce LLC in Madera, CA. "We will see if people thin and do what they need to do to get the right size fruit, but 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."

The same applies to other stone fruit, he added. "It looks very promising. At least for us and our growers, we had the right amount of chill hours so, assuming Mother Nature continues to cooperate, the fruit should be really good tasting this year with good size. Everything is hitting on all cylinders, so I think it is a good year to promote California stone fruit. It should be eating right, it should be looking right and it should be arriving right."

In contrast to "last year's horrific storms," this year the industry has been "blessed with good weather, relatively speaking, throughout the spring so far," said Luis Scattaglia, managing partner at Scattaglia Growers & Shippers in Traver, CA. "So far with the tree fruit, everything looks really good," and it appears that "we will have good supplies."

The general trend over the past few years has been toward more tree fruit acreage to be pulled out in the state, particularly in peaches, plums and nectarines. "But at least on that acreage that is remaining we have a good crop," and quality "really looks good." However, "we still have a long way to go" before harvest, Mr. Scattaglia said.

After the disappointments caused by last year's storms, "we are going to have a lot of fun this year, and we are going to satisfy a lot of people," he said.

Although hail caused extensive losses in some orchards last year and certainly contributed to a reduction in shipments of premium-quality fruit, Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League in Fresno, CA, said it seems not to have significantly reduced the total volume of stone fruit sent to market. Shippers apparently met demand by increasing the amount of smaller-sized fruit and different grades of fruit they packed.

Mr. Bedwell said that most growers he has talked to "are saying they are going to be pretty much consistent with the amount of boxes they had last year." They expect a roughly equal number of boxes this year, but "at the same or better quality levels."

Apricots, apriums and even some conventional peaches and nectarines started as early as April 22, according to Clint Lucas, an inspector at RJO Produce Marketing in Fresno. By the first or second week of May, "you will see a little better size and a little better volume."

Some early plums should be starting by the second week in May, he said.

Conditioned tree fruit would probably start around May 20, with Zee fire nectarines and Spring flame peaches, he said. "Conditioned plums don't start till usually around the 10th of June.

"Everybody is saying it looks like a good volume year," Mr. Lucas continued.

"Industry-wide, I would say I see an average crop, a fair crop, and a good clean crop," said Stephen Paul, sales manager for stone fruit, specialty fruit and grapes at Homegrown Organic Farms in Porterville, CA. "We have been blessed with some calm weather during the spring period, unlike years in the past, so I think everything is set up for a very nice stone fruit year."

Giumarra Fruit Co. in Reedley, CA, expected to start with apricots the week of April 29, followed closely by white peaches, according to John Thiesen, operations manager. "Right now the crops overall look good. We have mostly full crops. There are a few varieties that are a little bit short, but not much."

Orchard pullouts over the last few years have significantly reduced the state's total tree fruit volume. As recently as five years ago, California was shipping a combined total of more than 60 million boxes of peaches, nectarines and plums. "Now we talk over 40 million."

"The crop looks fantastic," said David Stone, president and chief executive officer of Valhalla Sales & Marketing Inc. in Kingsburg, CA. Most varieties have full crops, except for some plum varieties that appear to be a little bit light. “Our weather has been perfect and growing conditions a have been ideal," he said.