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California date harvest running one to two weeks early with good quality

“The crop is starting early this year,” said Lori Cooper,  manager of the California Date Administrative Committee in Indio, CA, in an interview with The Produce News Sept. 3. It is running anywhere from seven days to 14 days ahead of normal, “depending on where you are in the valley.”

The California Date Administrative Committee is a federal marketing order covering date growers in Riverside County, encompassing the date-growing regions of the Coachella Valley.07-DateNut-CalDateA California date palm. (Photo courtesy of California Date Administration Committee).

While there are about 30 varieties of dates grown in the valley, the two largest commercially grown varieties are Medjool and Deglet Noor.

The Medjool harvest, which normally starts about mid-September, was already under way, Cooper said. “Deglets normally start about the first couple of weeks in October, but there may actually be Deglets coming in the last week of September” and very likely by Oct. 5 this year.

“I have heard from a couple of handlers that the crop on the Deglets looks really good this year,” she said. “So far, they have been blessed by not receiving a lot of rain. That is always the culprit when it comes near to harvest.” So far this year, the rains have been holding off, she said. Growers “have been watching the weather forecast,” but none of the monsoons that often come in late summer have moved into the growing areas. “It has been humid, but we haven’t had any heavy rains so we are happy about that.”

Growers are welcoming the early start to the harvest this year. “They certainly need it,” Cooper said, “because the last two crops came in a little less than they anticipated … and they have pretty much depleted a lot of their inventories.”

For the last 10 or 15 years, the industry has been going through a process of old groves being taken out and new ones being planted, Cooper said. Total acreage has remained fairly constant at around 9,000 acres.

The mixture of new groves coming into production, old groves that are declining in production or being taken out of production and other acreage that is continuing in production makes estimating the crop size difficult, she said.

 As in the past, the date committee’s promotional activities are largely event oriented. “For the upcoming season, we are going to kick it off” with participation in the Produce Marketing Association expo in Anaheim, CA, on Oct. 17-19, she said. California Dates exhibited  at PMA in Anaheim two years ago, with Oliver Wolf, executive chef with J.W. Marriott Desert Springs  Resort & Spa in Desert Springs, CA, preparing date dishes at the booth for show attendees to sample.

This year, California Dates is exhibiting at a larger booth and bringing in a different chef — Eric Theiss, restaurant owner, on-air chef and cookbook publisher.

The date committee will be participating in several high profile local events in the Coachella Valley in 2015, beginning with a dates-and-wines event called “Open Your Heart” in collaboration with the American Heart Association, she said. About a week later, California Dates will again be participating in a “Go Red for Women” event sponsored by the American Heart Association.

In the middle of February, “we are back into the Date Festival again. That is where we have chefs every day that are creating dishes for the public to sample. We have done this now about eight years,” she added.

In April, the date committee will be participating in the California Dietetic Association conference “where we have an exhibit, give out samples and greet the dieticians,” Cooper said.

The California Date Committee has also increased its involvement in nutritional research of dates.