REEDLEY, Calif. — California’s San Joaquin Valley stone fruit production is in transition.
An oversupply of peaches, nectarines and plums in 2008 prompted some grower-packer-shippers to take drastic action, ranging from removing unprofitable orchards to getting out of the business altogether.
“We’ve had a lot of acreage pulled in our area,” said John Thiesen, division manager, Giumarra Bros. Fruit Co. Inc., Reedley. “This area is so traditional in stone fruit, and you just see many different blocks going out. You see citrus, almonds and walnuts all around us now.”
Without production figures from the California Tree Fruit Agreement, a federal marketing order terminated in 2011, Thiesen said it’s hard to know much acreage was actually removed.
In 2008, the industry shipped about 60 million 25-pound cartons of peaches, plums and nectarines total, according to CTFA reports. Last year, Thiesen estimated the industry shipped about 47 million cartons or less.
Based on current weather, Thiesen said the crop appeared about a week ahead of last year, which had an unusually late start.
Although he said the peach and nectarine set appeared normal, it was too early to tell about plums.
Jeff Simonian, sales manager, Simonian Fruit Co., Fowler, said the family-owned grower-shipper is following the industry trend and expected to ship slightly less volume this year than last under its Simco label.
“We continue to weed out the unprofitable varieties,” he said. “There will be less volume, but it will still be decent.”
This season appears about a week earlier than last year, and Simonian said Zee Fire nectarines and Island Prince peaches should start in mid-May.
The first plum — Yummy beaut — should start about the second week in June.
Michael Reimer, vice president of sales for Brandt Farms Inc., Reedley, said the industry should have a better handle on the effects of orchard removal after this season.
“This is the first year where we see the reaction to the correction to the 2008 market, because we’re going to realize that orchards were not replanted from the 2008 pullouts,” he said.
What Reimer said he hopes is growers removed less-desirable varieties or ones that were responsible for radical supply spikes.
This season, Brandt Farms expects increased volumes of its proprietary white nectarines.
Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, continues to convert acres of conventional varieties to proprietary ones, said Dan Spain, vice president, sales and marketing.
“Every year we may take 10% of that (conventional fruit) out and graft over to our proprietary fruit,” he said.
As in the past, Kingsburg Orchards plans to begin the peach, plum and nectarine season under its Season Opener label, which alerts clerks of the transition from Chilean fruit to California fruit. After 30-45 days, Kingsburg Orchards will move into its Flavor Farmer label for the rest of the season.
The grower-packer-shipper also expects to ship nearly 100 varieties of pluots under its Dinosaur Brand label, as well as about a half dozen different white- and yellow-fleshed flat peach varieties under the Flying Saucer label.
Scattaglia Growers & Shippers, Traver, is bucking the industry trend and should see overall stone fruit volume increase by about 30% this season, said Louis Scattaglia, managing partner.
“There’s been a lot of transition going on in the stone fruit industry the last five years, and we feel we have the right varieties in place so the consumer will have a great eating experience all season long,” he said.
To support that volume, SGS has expanded its pressure cooling and cold-storage capacity and added an eight-line sizer.