California kiwifruit market should stay activeA lighter-than-expected California kiwifruit crop, combined with a light Italian crop and a late start in Chile, should mean robust demand for the next several months, California grower-shippers say.

By the week of Nov. 11, the bulk of the California kiwifruit harvest had wrapped up for the year, said John Fagundes, owner of Hanford, Calif.-based Fagundes Agribusiness and its marketing arm, Cal Harvest Marketing Inc.

“Most of the houses have completed in the south. There are still a few going in the north,” Fagundes said Nov. 11.

Fruit quality looks excellent, Fagundes said, but volumes will likely be lighter than early Kiwifruit Administrative Committee estimates, he said.

No major frost or other weather events can explain the lower yields, Fagundes said, though there were high winds in the northern growing regions that knocked fruit off trees.

“The crop is down from last year,” said Chris Kragie, deciduous fruit manager for Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing.

Kragie also expects good quality throughout the season.

“The fruit at this time is of great quality,” he said.

In addition to the lighter volumes, Fagundes said that fruit will likely be smaller than it’s been the past two years.

“You might see some deals on some smaller sizes,” he said.

The smaller sizing is one of the reasons volumes could be down about 10% from last year industrywide, said Doug Phillips, president of Visalia, Calif.-based Phillips Farms.

“The market and movement are both strong now, and I don’t see why that would change too much,” Phillips said.

Western Fresh’s sizes in November were peaking on 33s and 45s, Kragie said.

Even with Italian kiwifruit beginning to come into the U.S., predominantly on the East Coast, demand for California product was strong in November and should get stronger, Fagundes said.

On Nov. 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $18 for 19.8-pound containers of hayward 27s from California, comparable to last year at the same time.

“I believe it will go up in the next few months,” Fagundes said. “From what I understand, Italy also is down, and Chile won’t be as early as in past years because of the frost.”

Kragie agreed.

“Prices will stay above normal due to the shortage of overall quantity and specific sizes,” he said.

It also helps, he said, that Italy is demanding higher prices.

“Italy is looking at holding fruit for the late market in Europe due to the Chilean freeze,” he said.

“Some California marketers also are looking to save fruit for our late markets.”

Early ends to the 2013 New Zealand and Chilean deals could keep more Italian fruit in Europe this season, Phillips said, though he said high U.S. prices also could prove alluring.