In contrast to last year, weather conditions for the 2013 stone fruit growing season in California's San Joaquin Valley have been generally very good, resulting in white flesh peach and nectarine crops that have a much improved outlook over 2012.
"Crop size is obviously better than last year," Don Goforth, marketing director at Family Tree Farms Marketing LLC in Reedley, CA, told The Produce News."We didn't have any real weather issues. No hail issues and no significant rain issues."
The harvest at Family Tree Farms was already in full swing, he said. The timing of the crop is "fairly normal" compared to the average timing over the last 10 years. "Quality has been great so far and Brix have been high."
With regard to fruit size, however, the early varieties haven't been measuring up to last year.
"Those varieties are maybe a size smaller than we had last year, primarily due to a 10-day period of high heat [in early May] that brought the fruit on a little quicker, so you had a situation where the product will mature before it sizes up," said Goforth. "We are seeing that and subsidiary effects of that in some of these varieties" currently being harvested.
But Goforth expected that "we should be seeing good size fruit" by early to mid-June.
The varieties currently being harvested were showing good color, he said. "We are getting some cool nights, which is bringing on some very nice color. For the last few days, we have had perfect growing weather with warm days and cool nights, and the fruit is showing the very nice results of that."
The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC in Hanford, CA, expected to start its white flesh fruit harvest in earnest around mid-June.
"The timing is a little bit earlier than last year, which is good," said Maurice (Mo) Cameron, managing partner of the company, which is the marketing arm of Warmerdam Packing LP.
"All in all, we are looking at a good crop," Cameron said. "We are looking at better quality than last y ear. Last year, there was a lot of hail that hit some of the orchards, and we are looking to get as much as 30 percent more No. 1 fruit just because we didn't get hit by hail this year."
Last year, a major hail storm took a significant amount of acreage out of production, he said.
In the white flesh category, "our own program is predominantly a white flesh nectarine program," although the company does have "some peaches throughout season," Cameron said. "We have a continuous program on the nectarines" from mid-June through the end of September.
"We have always, historically, been a large shipper of white nectarines, and a lot of them end up going export," Cameron continued. The major export markets for the company are typically Taiwan, Canada and Mexico.
"We have a very strong program in Mexico with our 'La Californiana' label on white flesh," said Cameron. "We have even done posters and 'La Californiana' PLU stickers for the Mexico white flesh trade."
In Taiwan, "we predominantly go in with the 'Sun Tree' brand, which Warmerdam has been packing since 1965," he said. "That is a very strong program there as well, and we ship all summer long."
In addition to exports, "we do have a good base of domestic customers who support us on the large size fruit for retail," Cameron said. "Domestically, depending on the customer, we ship both in the 'Sun Tree' and in the 'La Californiana.' We do have some New York metropolitan area customers who like the 'La Californiana' brand. It is a high graphic box ... a nice box" with "an old mission-style label."
Flavor Tree's 2013 white flesh program is "exactly the same as it has been the last two years," he said. "We haven't taken anything out, and we really haven't been putting anything in the past two years." Domestically, the company works with "the same group of customers" each year. "We have a lot of repeat customers." However, "we are looking at expanding [the white flesh program] domestically with more retailers, just to have more of a blend."
Industry-wide, there was "a major correction" in white flesh fruit acreage around three or four years ago, "where a lot of white flesh was pulled out," Cameron said. "The immediate reaction was the market responded and the prices reacted quite well."
Some of the orchards that were pulled out consisted of varieties that never had high enough production to make them profitable or sustainable, even when market prices were good, he said.
Since the pull-outs occurred, "the market has pretty much stabilized, I think, for white flesh, and the pricing has been good," he said. "We'll see this year, with increased volume in the marketplace," how well the market will hold. "But I am pretty optimistic about it being a pretty decent stone fruit year in general."
Family Tree Farms' white flesh program is strongest in the peach category, but "we are expanding a little bit in our white nectarine line," much of it in proprietary varieties, said Goforth. The peach line continues to expand. "With white peaches, there are four or five new varieties that will be coming out this year, all under the 'Great White' label."
The company's production starts early in the season, ramps up quickly to a plateau and stays steady and solid through September, he said. During that time, "there is really not a week you can't promote."
Family Tree's business has evolved largely into "close partnerships with people that understand the white flesh commodity," and every year "we increase our numbers with our core partner accounts," Goforth said. "We work with a very good customer base that supports and sells a lot of white flesh," and that success is no accident. It is achieved through big displays, robust demo programs and good signage, and by having "people in the department that talk to customers about white flesh," he explained.
Consequently, Goforth said demand for white flesh fruit from Family Tree's customers is growing, and to meet that demand, "we increase our production every single year. We increase our acreage. We increase our varieties."
Demand consistently exceeds supply, so "we are never long on white flesh peaches, and we produce a lot of white flesh peaches -- and nectarines, for that matter," Goforth continued.
Family Tree continues to have "a robust export division" and is particularly strong in Asian markets. "Our business overseas is fantastic," he said. But there is now healthy competition from the domestic market. Ten or 15 years ago, whatever the export market didn't take was sold domestically, but "that is not the case anymore" Today, "we focus on domestic business ... and that has paid off, quite frankly."
Family Tree's white flesh program includes a large program with Galaxy flat peaches, Goforth said. That has met with good success and "is going well both domestically and export."