Nectarines show severe damage from an April 11 hail storm.
Nectarines show severe damage from an April 11 hail storm.

FRESNO, Calif. — California grower-shippers are still tallying damage from an onslaught of quarter-sized hail April 11. With the exception of stone fruit, however, most crops suffered little.

The industrywide loss for early season varieties of nectarines and peaches is estimated at 20% by most grower-shippers, said Dovey Plain, marketing coordinator for Reedley-based Family Tree Farms.

The bulk of the heavy hail fell along a 20-mile swath stretching from southwest of Kingsburg east to south of Dinuba and Reedley.

“It’s definitely in a very concentrated area, and within that swath some people got hit really hard while others were spared,” Plain said. “There could be big supply problems on certain varieties or at certain times.”

Most California crops dodge hail damageSince the demise of the California Tree Fruit Agreement two years ago, there is no single source compiling industry statistics and, therefore, no official crop estimates.

“Overall, it’s hard to say how bad things are, because we don’t know what varieties were hit,” Plain said.

The nectarine, peach and some cherry orchards of Hanford-based Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC were in the heart of the hail belt.

“We have significant damage in the nectarine crop and significant, but not to the same extent, in the peach crop,” said Maurice Cameron, president.

The hail was smaller in the Hanford area, Cameron said, and crews have been thinning off damaged fruit.

As for the company’s later season varieties, “the verdict is still out,” Cameron said.

Damage to cherries was less severe, with Cameron putting the loss at about 10%.
“We really didn’t see any cherries on the ground,” he said.

The trees will likely abort any fruit that took a direct hit, Cameron said. It will be akin to natural thinning, because Flavor Tree Fruit’s cherry trees have a pretty full crop, he said.

The outlook is much brighter among other commodity groups.

It was mostly rain that hit the region’s citrus belt, and that natural irrigation is resulting in larger fruit, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“We’ve already seen it come up, so we’re now peaking in the more desirable sizes, 72s and larger,” he said.

Nearly all of the vineyard acreage of Sundale Sales, Tulare, is south of the hail belt and suffered no damage, said Sean Stockton, president.

Karen Brux, vice president of marketing communications for the California Table Grape Commission, said the office had received no reports of hail damage from growers.

Atomic Torosian, managing partner of Crown Jewels Marketing LLC, said there was no hail damage to any of the table grape, cherry and blueberry fields the company markets.

“Most of our acreage was outside of the hail belt,” he said.

The company’s main melon grower, Firebaugh-based Perez Packing, endured heavy rain, but no hail, Torosian said.

It was the same scenario at Firebaugh-based Westside Produce, said Jim Malanca, vice president and sales manager.

“The only thing the storm could possibly do is keep us from having Westside cantaloupes in the month of June, but we usually start the season after July 4 anyway,” he said.

The company’s second planting was scheduled to begin April 19, Malanca said, and temperatures above 70 degrees were helping dry the soil.

The San Joaquin Valley’s west side also is home to the bulk of the region’s fresh tomato fields, which got plenty of rain, but also escaped the hail, said Jeff Dolan, director of farm operations for Dimare Newman. The company’s first harvest is expected to begin in mid-May.

“We’re looking very, very good on the front end of our deal,” Dolan said.

The storm did focus on some of the state’s kiwifruit acreage, but damage was minimal, said Nick Matteis, assistant director of the California Kiwifruit Commission.

“If there was any damage, it was spotty at best, and looks as if we’ll have another good California crop of kiwifruit,” he said.

Nut crops also emerged with limited damage from the hail. There are no pistachio orchards in the hardest hit area, said Rich Matoian, executive director of American Pistachio Growers.

“It looks as if this will be another record year,” he said.

Some almond growers were hit by hail, but the industry is hoping the result will be nothing more than the June drop in April, said Paul Reynolds, sales manager for Meridian Nut Growers LLC, Clovis.

“As far as the aggregate crop, it (hail damage) should be a fairly small effect,” he said.

A few almond growers reported moderate-to-severe hail damage, said Richard Waycott, president and chief executive officer of the Almond Board of California, Modesto. The almond industry enjoys the luxury of thousands of acres. As a result, “what the impact of the hail will be on a percentage basis will probably be in the point-zero-zero-something range,” he said.

The industry’s subjective estimate is due to be released May 3, Waycott said, and the comprehensive estimate will be released in late June.