California prune growers may face more losses - The Packer

California prune growers may face more losses

06/03/2008 12:00:00 AM
Don Schrack

(June 3, 4:28 p.m.) California’s prune crop is taking an estimated $12 million hit from an April freeze, but losses could increase by the August harvest.

The state’s Prune Bargaining Association, Yuba City, surveyed growers in the wake of the April 20 freeze, and grower-shippers said about 7% of the acreage statewide was damaged.

“We probably had about 3,000 acres wiped out,” said Greg Thompson, general manager of the association.

In recent years, the California prune industry, nearly all of which is north of Sacramento, has endured feast or famine seasons.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but I’ve never before seen it where so many growers have had three bad crops out of four,” Thompson said.

There is some consolation — and more consternation. Last year’s volume was about 60% of a normal prune crop. Even with the freeze damage, volume is expected to be about 80% of normal this year, Thompson said.

Supplies will be a bit tight, he said, but the quality of the crop is very good. There’s no concern that freeze-damaged fruit will reach store shelves.

“Freeze-damaged fruit almost always ripens early and falls off the trees before harvest,” Thompson said.

Because of the cooler spring temperatures, grower-shippers are anticipating harvesting will begin in late August, about two-weeks later than normal, he said.

“The costs of fertilizer and fuel have doubled over last year,” he said. “We’re looking at a $400-per-acre increase in production costs or about $200 per ton.”

That figure does not include the cost of drying, which has not yet been established, Thompson said.



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