Localized weather problems coupled with an already light fruit set have conspired to reduce the 2012-13 California kiwifruit crop, based on the initial crop estimate.

But it appears the ensuing mild spring weather has benefitted the remainder of the crop, said Nick Matteis of Ag Association Management Services Inc., Sacramento, Calif.

“It looks like we’ll have good size distribution,” he said. “It’s a good looking crop, and we expect good quality.”

The Sacramento-based Kiwifruit Administrative Committee agreed to a conservative crop estimate of 6.2 million 7-pound tray equivalents at its July 11 meeting in Modesto, Calif.

That compares to the 2011-12 crop, which is expected to finish with about 9.2 million trays, and the 2010-11 crop, which was about 8.5 million trays, Matteis said.

“We had frost and hail in the southern production area, which hit some growers fairly hard,” Matteis said.

“The fruit set was already down, we’re guessing, 15% to 20%.”

He said it’s also too early in the growing season to determine how individual pieces of fruit will size, which could affect the overall crop estimate.

Harvest start

Chris Kragie, sales manager for Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, Calif., said he thinks the committee’s estimate was probably low and that this year’s crop is more in the 7 million to 7.7 million tray range.

The Italian kiwifruit crop, which competes directly with California’s, also is projected to be down about 25%, he said.

California’s kiwifruit acreage is split, with about two-thirds in the southern San Joaquin Valley and about one-third in the northern Sacramento Valley.

John Fagundes, president of Cal Harvest, the marketing arm of Fagundes Agribusiness, Hanford, Calif., said he expects to start harvest in early October.

But the actual start date will depend on test results on dry matter, which University of California studies have shown is a good indication of consumer acceptance.

“It’s somewhat of a higher standard than what the industry has set,” he said.

Cal Harvest also preconditions kiwifruit using ethylene for about the first 30 days after harvest to promote ripening.

This will be the third season that the operation is offering kiwifruit under the Cal King label in 3-pound clamshells in addition to 4-pounders for club stores.

The slightly smaller packaging is a hit, Fagundes said.

“The 3-pound for us has been going really well,” he said, adding the pack is available for conventional and organic kiwifruit.

One of the most successful promotions Western Fresh has used is in-store demonstrations with chains.

“I think the biggest thing about kiwis is everybody thinks kiwis are sour, and people don’t like sour fruit,” Kragie said.

“We show them how to look for a ripe piece of fruit.”

Sun Pacific preconditions all fruit as part of its Ripe and Easy program, said Bob DiPiazza, president of Sun Pacific Marketing, Pasadena, Calif.

The fruit is packed in 1- or 2-pound clamshells imprinted with images showing how to slice it and use a spoon to scoop and eat it.

“You don’t have to take the time to peel and slice kiwis,” he said.

“The fruit is ripe ― you simply cut it in half and scoop it. It’s really a quick process.”

Some clamshells also contain a spife, a combination spoon and knife.

The utensil and eating instructions were the outcome of research that showed consumers found kiwifruit too time-consuming to prepare, DiPiazza said.