California stone fruit grower-shippers expect strong demand for high-quality peaches, nectarines and plums when fruit begins shipping in late April.

“Everything looks very, very good,” said Don Goforth, marketing director of Reedley, Calif.-based Family Tree Farms.

Winter chill hours were in the 900 range, above average, Goforth said, and trees set evenly, with some heavy sets reported.

Family Tree expected to start shipping from the West Hills coastal range west of Reedley in the second half of April, about 10 to 15 days earlier than the San Joaquin Valley, with volume ship-ments expected by May.

The heavy sets on trees means that Fresno, Calif.-based Trinity Fruit Sales Co. will be able to thin as much or as little as it needs to meet customers’ size needs, said John Hein, salesman.

“It works out well for programs,” he said. “It gives us a full spectrum of all sizes.”

Trinity expects to ship a full lineup of tray packs, bags and specialty packs in addition to bulk vo-lumes this season, Hein said.

Trinity’s volumes should be up slightly over last season, with younger trees beginning to come into full production, Hein said. Family Tree also expected a volume bump, with new ranches com-ing on line this season.

Early plum volumes could be lower because of rain, Hein said, though they should pick up and return to more normal levels later in the deal. Goforth said plum volumes would likely be only slightly down because of the rain, which came during bloom and prevented bees from pollinating plants.

On March 30, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $14-15 for two-layer tray packs of yellow-flesh peaches 40-44s from Chile, up from $10-12 last year at the same time.

Two-layer tray packs of Chilean plums 40s were $14, comparable to last year.

Hein expected strong demand when California fruit begins shipping.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm out there right now,” he said. “Our customers are excited to get started on California fruit.”

California will likely benefit from a supply gap caused by the Chilean earthquake, Goforth said.

“There’s a lot of pent-up excitement and demand now,” he said. “We expect to have good move-ment from the get-go.”

Hein, however, doubts that the earthquake affected late-season Chilean stone fruit volumes much. Stone fruit, unlike other Chilean fruit, typically is packed and shipped right away, rather than stored in controlled-atmosphere rooms, many of which were damaged in the quake, he said.

Hein agreed that abundant chill hours over the winter should mean good quality this season.