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Stone fruit crop starts early with near-normal volume

The season is getting off to an early start for California stone fruit, with beginning harvest dates for many early varieties as much as one to two weeks ahead of normal.

Apricot and plum sets have been described as erratic, with varieties at some locations having good to fair crops on the trees and others having light or poor sets, thought to be attributable to inadequate chilling or other weather-related factors.06-Summerfruit-cropWhite peaches on the tree in California's San Joaquin Valley.

Peaches and nectarines seem to have fared better, with most growers anticipating normal or close to normal crops, although some are seeing similar, if less severe, issues to those seen in plums and apricots.

“This year, we have clearly gotten off to an early start,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement, April 16. “We are approximately seven to nine days earlier than last year, and last year was early. Historically, we are probably 10 to 14 days ahead of whatever could be considered normal.”

Some tree fruit was already being harvested in Coachella and on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, “and now we are going to start moving into the larger production areas as well,” Bedwell said. “I think from the initial reports, everybody feels like we’ve got good quantity and quality.”

Producing acreage on peaches, plums and nectarines is believed to be similar to the last couple of years. Some plantings have come out and some new ones have gone in, largely as growers continue switching over to newer, better varieties, but “I think you are seeing a relatively stable acreage base out there,” said Bedwell.

It looks like “a normal year” for peaches and nectarines, said Clint Lucas, who does sales and inspections for RJO Produce Marketing Inc. in Fresno, CA, May 21. With the combination of a good crop and an early start, he expects the industry to have “good supplies” available for Memorial Day ads for both yellow-flesh and white-flesh peaches and nectarines.

The plum category is “where I am hearing” the crop “might be off a little bit in terms of normal volume,” he said. However, he expects “good availability on plums post-Memorial Day.”

The tree fruit volume in California is in fewer hands than it was four or five years ago, and some acreage was pushed out in favor of other crops such as almonds or pistachios, but that situation has been stable for the last couple of years.

“I haven’t heard of any more consolidation or companies going under” this year, said Lucas.

There were some “bad years for growers” because of too much fruit on the market, he said. But “I think we have gotten away from that” and there has been “a stable market the past two or three seasons.” Supply and demand have been “pretty equal to each other.”

“I’m pretty optimistic about the summer,” said David Stone, president and CEO of Valhalla Sales & Marketing Inc. in Kingsburg, CA, April 15. The crop is “beautiful out there right now” and is sizing well, and the earliness of the season will give extra time to sell the crop.

Valhalla specializes in apricots and plums, and unlike some other growers of those commodities, he is looking at good full crops. “I have had some expensive thinning bills,” he said.

For Family Tree Farms in Reedley, CA, crop size may be down from last year, but “there are still promotable volumes of stone fruit, for sure,” said Dave Goforth, marketing director of Family Tree Farms Marketing LLC, April 17. “There is going to be less than an overflow of product, but there will still be plenty to go around.” Quality and sizing were “looking very good. I think we are going to have a fine year.”

Family Tree Farms will be “light on plums and plumcots” and off sharply on apricots, but “close to normal on peaches and nectarines,” he said.

In plums and plumcots, some varieties have close to normal sets and others have poor sets, he said. “It is mixed.” But the crop is not down as much as it first appeared. “What we thought was a very bad situation is getting better each day.”

In some orchards with a light bloom, what blossoms there were apparently set fruit better than expected, so it was beginning to appear that “we are in better shape than we thought we were,” he added.

“In general, we have a good crop,” but probably down 20 percent from 2013, said Maurice Cameron, managing partner of The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC in Hanford, CA, April 17.

The harvest started 14 days ahead of last year’s production in some orchards for Giumarra Bros. Fruit Co. in Reedley, CA, according to Jeannine Martin, director of sales.

It is important for retailers to know that there will be volume available sooner than it has been in the past, she added. “Quality is good all around.”

How good the set is “depends on where you are,” said Justin Bedwell, managing partner at Bari Produce LLC in Madera, CA, April 11. “Some spots look a little bit better than last year. Some spots look a little worse than last year, as far as the number of pieces per tree. We think that as an average, it will be off just a little bit from last year.”

He expected to start harvesting the company’s earliest nectarine variety April 12, which is “quite a bit ahead of last year.”

For Homegrown Organic Farms, “everything looks really good,” said Stephen Paul, sales manager for stone fruit, specialty fruit and grapes, April 11. “I would consider it as a normal year. I don’t think it is light, and I don’t see it that heavy.” Quality this year appears to be “what we call almost California classic.”