Weather encourages California kiwifruit grower-shippersUnusually cool and wet winter and spring weather was a headache for many California summer fruit and vegetable crops.

A mild — by San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Valley standards — summer has been a boon, however, to kiwifruit grower-shippers.

The California Kiwifruit Commission’s preliminary crop estimate issued in mid-July came in under 8 million tray equivalents, said Nick Matteis, assistant manager of the Sacramento-based commission.

That’s a conservative estimate, he said.

“It was based on an average size of 39s, but the crop could very well average 36s or even 33s,” Matteis said.

“It has all the potential to be very close to or as big as last year’s volume.”

The 2010 crop produced more than 8.5 million tray equivalents.

“Cool summers are great for kiwifruit,” said Chris Kragie, vice president of Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc., Madera, Calif.

The kiwifruit harvest for Western Fresh is scheduled to begin “sometime after mid-September,” he said.

There are two kiwifruit growing regions in California: one in the central San Joaquin Valley and the other about 200 miles away north of Sacramento.

Barring extreme weather conditions in one of the regions, fruit size is usually consistent, said John Fagundes, owner of Fagundes Agribusiness and its marketing arm, Cal Harvest Marketing Inc.

Fagundes said he plans to begin harvesting his Hanford area fields right at the end of September.

“The cooler summer temperatures are producing nice, large fruit,” he said.

The start of the harvest in the northern region usually follows by about a week.

Kingsburg, Calif.-based Kingsburg Orchards, which grows the hayward variety, is scheduled to begin picking in mid-October.

Growers in both regions reported to the commission that the fruit was staying green much longer than normal this season, Matteis said.

“The more gradual ripening process coupled with the mild summer temperatures is always good for sizing,” he said.

Mother Nature has been unusually kind to the state’s kiwifruit grower-shippers this season.

“There was no major frost damage and very little wind damage,” Matteis said.

“There was a late spring hail storm, but it missed the northern and southern fields.”

Growers also reported an abundance of single fruit sets, which usually means larger sizes, he said.

Volume for Fagundes Agribusiness will be about the same as 2010, Fagundes said, but Western Fresh is anticipating about a 10% bump in kiwifruit volume.

“We anticipate we’ll have 1.2 million tray equivalents available for our customers, or about 15% of the California kiwifruit crop,” Kragie said.

There has been no evidence in California of the kiwifruit canker disease that hit the New Zealand and Italian kiwifruit industries last year, Matteis said.