Although some apricot orchards in the south end of California’s San Joaquin Valley suffered an unusual March 17 hailstorm, the Patterson-Westley region — the state’s main production area — escaped relatively unscathed.
This year, grower-packer-shippers say they expect a more normal start to the season, unlike 2011 and 2010, when cool spring weather delayed fruit maturity.
Based on current conditions, Brian Wright, salesman at Del Mar Farms, Westley, Calif., predicted harvest should start about May 18 — at least five days earlier than last year.
“It’s been pretty much ideal from the chill hours we’ve received all the way through the bloom,” he said.
Del Mar Farms expects a little more early volume as younger orchards of goldbar, robada and coral cot apriums come into production.
Compared with later varieties, such as patterson and tri-gems, the earlier varieties tend to have more blush, “which is what more retailers and consumers are asking for,” he said.
One practice the vertically integrated operation has started is allowing fruit to ripen on the trees longer. Harvest crews wear cotton gloves and use padded picking buckets and bins to protect the fruit.
“Especially the early varieties are very delicate,” Wright said. “We’re trying to pick them riper in the field, handle them more delicately and then the consumer gets a better tasting piece of fruit.”
Dave Santos, co-owner of Blossom Hill Packing Co., Patterson, Calif., said he expects to start shipping the first week of May, about a week earlier than 2011.
Based on current conditions, he said retailers should expect a good, clean crop and good supplies.
In addition to standard packs, Blossom Hill also has had success with handled bags, said Jim Lucich, salesman. Fifteen bags of random weight and that total 24 pounds are packed in a Euro-footprint box.
“It looks good, it arrives well, and it’s great for the customer,” he said.
The bags have been popular with chains in the East and Northwest, Lucich said.
Initial surveys of southern San Joaquin Valley orchards indicate spotty hail damage, but grower-packer-shippers say that could change if more hailstorms hit orchards before harvest.
“Last year, we had pretty severe damage and in some areas saw it hit 50%,” said Gene Coughlin, category director for Sun World, Bakersfield, Calif. “This year, so far we’re seeing less hail damage than last year which should lead larger crop. But we are cautiously optimistic and will really have to wait and see. We hadn’t thinned yet, so that should help.”