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California fig crops looks great, says Western Fresh Marketing exec

In early May, George Kragie had surveyed the groves, was selling the first fruit of the season and packing his bags to make his annual trek to the Midwest when he talked about this year’s California fig crop.

“We have started in the desert and our breva crop is light, but the Brown Turkeys (fig variety) look phenomenal,” he said. “We have had no weather or water problems and the crop looks great.”

ChrisinFigOrchard2012-001Chris Kragie in a fig grove.Kragie, who is the president of Western Fresh Marketing in Madera, CA, noted that it was a bit ironic to discuss the fact that the California desert, where the early figs are grown, has absolutely no water issues despite California’s ongoing drought. That area of the state gets most of its water from the Colorado River, which, of course, gets most of its water from the Colorado Rockies. While California has been mired in a four-year drought, Colorado has received normal rainfall, and thus, California’s desert communities have received their normal water allocations.

Kragie said the weather has been warm and growing conditions have been close to perfect. Following the Brown Turkeys, the Black Mission variety will start to be harvested in the last week of May. Kragie said it was a good crop that looks fine, but he did not give it as much praise as he bestowed on the Brown Turkey fruit.

In this early part of the season, he is selling most of his fruit, which is very high priced, to foodservice customers. “We are still at least 10 days away from any retail sales,” he said in early May.

The early Brown Turkey was very large fruit, sizing as 12s and 14s, and made a perfect presentation for high-end restaurants. “I was just down in the desert and all of the good restaurants had figs on their menu.”

He called fresh figs a “sexy fruit” that is getting a lot of play in the culinary world and said retailers are also excited about the start of the season. “We have been talking to a lot of retail executives about the start of the season and devoting shelf space to figs.”

He said that with the many different varieties — and the fresh season now being extended until the end of December — fresh figs from California warrant that shelf space.

Kragie and his wife, Susan Bidvia-Kragie, who is the tropical manager at Western Fresh, were in the throes of packing up their truck when this conversation took place. Every year, the Kragies head for Michigan, where they own a fruit farm and operate a seasonal office. “We are heading out on Wednesday (May 6),” he said two days earlier. “And we should arrive by Friday. We drive 12 to 14 hours a day.”

The farm produces several crops, including apples, grapes and cherries. “We are typically there from the end of April or beginning of May until the first snow falls,” he said.

Back in Madera, son Chris Kragie, who wears the title of deciduous fruit manager, holds down the fort.