Hot summer days have given California’s raisins, dried plum and dried fig growers an early harvest and plumped up cranberries in bogs across North America.
Donn Zea, executive director of the California Dried Plum Board, Sacramento, said the month-long harvest of fresh prune plums in the four counties north of Sacramento began the third week in August.
Quality is exceptional, Zea said, though sizes will be smaller.
“Last year we had very large prunes, but it looks like the middle sizes will be more plentiful this year,” he said.
He said volume will be down, from 135,000 tons last year to an estimated 120,000 tons this year.
Acreage is also down, from 55,000 acres a year ago to 52,000 acres as some growers shift to more profitable walnut trees.
Drying plums in electric dryers makes them prohibitively expensive to produce, he said.
Since the drying season is so short, the industry isn’t a candidate for solar power, though Zea said growers are working on a “green” solution with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of California.
Dried fig producers began harvesting fresh figs in mid-August, two weeks earlier than last year, said Linda Cain, vice president of marketing for Fresno, Calif.-based Valley Fig Growers.
Most of the crop, similar to last year’s at just over 1,500 tons, should be harvested by the end of September, Cain said.
The figs dry on the vine and are collected when they fall to the ground.
“Our biggest challenge is keeping up with the growing consumer demand,” she said.
Karla Stockli, chief executive officer of the Fresno-based California Fig Advisory Board, said a slight increase in new plantings throughout the state will contribute to a consistent flow of fresh figs into the market from mid-May to January, and a consistent supply of dried figs throughout the year.
Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., Lakeville, Mass., is forecasting a North American crop of 10.2 million barrels, a 2% increase over last year’s record crop of 10 million barrels.
“Weather has been perfect in the Northeast,” said Kristen Borsari, director of marketing for North America.
“We have an additional 1,900 acres in production, some new contracts, and growers continue to renovate their bags, which increases their yields,” Borsari said.
After two years of beginning their harvest after Labor Day, California raisin growers were pleased to begin harvesting on Aug. 20 this year.
If the weather holds, the harvest should be completed by early October, said Glen Goto, chief executive officer of the Fresno-based Raisin Bargaining Association, which negotiates raisin prices with packers.
This year’s crop will be the smallest in recent years, Goto said, with estimates ranging from 12% to 25% less than 2011.
In the past decade, the raisin industry has dropped from almost 300,000 acres to 200,000 acres, he said, because of a combination of factors.
A lot of acres are being converted from vineyards to almond, pistachio and walnut orchards or citrus groves, he said.
Raisins have also traditionally been labor-intensive, with grape bunches picked by hand and laid on the ground in paper trays to dry in the sun.
The industry also faces pressure from the wine industry’s demand for grapes to crush for juice.
Last year’s price ended up at $265 per green ton of grape, Goto said, while this year started at $300 and soon climbed to $325.
He hoped his association’s offer to raise prices to processors by several hundred dollars would help stop the flow of product to the wineries.