If you thought last year’s California kiwifruit crop was good, just wait until you see this season’s. Grower-shippers say good growing conditions from the flowering stage to fruit set should result in an impressive crop.

Last year, Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager for Stellar Distributing Inc., Madera, Calif., said it was the best summer he had ever seen to grow kiwifruit, “but this year is better,” he said in early September.

Stellar Distributing started shipping kiwifruit around Sept. 22 last year, but because of weather factors and a heavier crop this year, Cappelluti said he did not expect to get started until Oct. 1.

“The fruit is the best quality we’ve ever had at Stellar,” he said.

“I think everybody has a very nice crop — every bit as good as last year.”

Stellar expects to ship 750,000 trays this year, up from 500,000 last season.

Cappelluti predicted that the industry would ship 9 million tray equivalents this year, though a preliminary crop estimate issued in July by the Sacramento-based California Kiwifruit Commission indicated that the crop likely would be about the same as last season’s 8.5 million trays.

Sizing might be a bit smaller, though.

Prices were strong as of mid-September, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b.s on larger sizes — 25s through 33s — in the $13-15 range, and $11-13 for smaller sizes of Chilean kiwifruit.

Steve Riley, director of sales for Regatta Tropicals Ltd., Grover Beach, Calif., was hopeful that prices would remain strong as the deal transitions from imports to California fruit.

The second week of September, he still had New Zealand fruit available and expected a couple of loads of controlled-atmosphere Chilean fruit.

He said volume at Regatta Tropicals should be up 50%, since the company partnered with another grower this season.

Tauranga, New Zealand-based Zespri had uncharacteristically high yields for a total of 115.9 million trays, up 14% from last season, said spokeswoman Liz Moody. Of that volume, Zespri shipped 6 million trays to North America, about the same as last year. New Zealand fruit should be available until late October.

Chilean growers shipped about 27,700 metric tons of kiwifruit to North America this season, up from 26,600 last year, according to the Chilean Kiwifruit Committee.

John Fagundes, president of Cal Harvest Marketing Inc., Hanford, Calif., looks forward to a good season.

“Fruit has been growing really well because of the cooler summer that we had,” he said. “We have a lot of fruit on the vine right now.”

The company expects to ship 500,000 boxes of kiwifruit this season — a 20% increase over last year.

Last year, most of the fruit was rather large — 27s and 30s — but there will be a mix of sizes this season, said Doug Wilson, president and owner of Wil-Ker-Son Ranch and Packing Co., Gridley, Calif.

The company expects to start shipping around Oct. 6 and should have about the same size crop as last year.

Shipments should continue industrywide through April.

California should have a solid kiwifruit deal this year, Cappelluti predicts, in part because he does not expect to see much Italian fruit in the U.S. this season since the weak dollar likely will discourage Italian shippers from exporting to the U.S.