(July 30, 12:50 p.m.) Between-harvest sags in California’s annual fresh fig deal are a thing of the past as growing desert volume makes the fruit available virtually non stop from May through December, grower-shippers said.

Until recently, the bulk of the state’s fresh fig volume came from the two seasonal pickings of orchards in the San Joaquin Valley.

“We now get five pickings a year,” said Denise Junqueiro, director of marketing for the California Fig Advisory Board, Fresno. “There are three pickings in the desert and the two in the valley.”

The second valley harvest of the popular black mission and kadota varieties began July 18 at the growers represented by Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc., said president George Kragie.

“Markets are good and the fruit is of great quality,” he said.

Western Fresh customers could expect supplies from the second harvest of brown turkeys to be available by the end of July, Kragie said. Harvesting of calimyrnas began July 7, he said, and shipping numbers are up significantly over 2007.

The second desert harvest is winding down. Cecelia Guzman, spokeswoman for K&W Farms, Inc., Coachella, Calif., said the company, which grows only brown turkeys, planned to finish the harvest about Aug. 1. The third picking at K&W Farms, she said, would begin in October and continue through January.

The advisory board issued its first-ever forecast this year, at 7.85 million pounds. After the first picking, it appeared the forecast may be too conservative, Junqueiro said.

“I have 650 guys picking figs right now,” Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager for Stellar Distributing Inc., Fresno, said July 28.

The second picking of desert figs marketed by Stellar Distributing began June 18 and will continue until about Aug. 8, Cappelluti said. The second valley season, which he said began July 15, will continue until mid-October. Then, it’s back to the desert for the third picking that could continue through January, he said.

Cappelluti is particularly excited about the new sierra variety.

“It’s probably the best green fig I’ve ever worked with as far as quality of eating, high sugar content and easy to ship,” he said.

Stellar Distributing has been marketing sierras for four years.

“We probably have 95% of the sierra production in California,” Cappelluti said.

The season is off to a fast start at Passion Fruit Farms, Merced, the valley’s northernmost grower-shipper.

“I have more sales than I have product,” said owner Tonetta Simone-Gladwin.

The weather has been perfect for the second crop, she said. The second harvest for Passion Fruit’s black missions and kadotas was scheduled to begin July 30, Simone-Gladwin said July 28. Picking is expected to continue through October, she said.

The growing consumer and foodservice demand for fresh figs is reflected in the advisory board’s statistics.

“Sales of fresh figs have grown 30% in each of the past five years,” Junqueiro said.