Nobody is saying 2013 will be a bumper crop for California fresh figs, but most are saying it will be a very good year for everyone from growers and retailers to consumers and laborers.
The breba crop came on about two weeks early in orchards across California’s growing regions, said Karla Stockli, chief executive officer for the Fresno-based California Fig Advisory Board.
“It’s the best breba crop since I’ve been with the board. It’s even a little sweeter than last year. The weather is helping us out,” Stockli said.
Several growers predict no gap between the breba and the main crops this year, which means steady supplies for retailers to promote.
Surprising good news
Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager for Stellar Distributing Inc., Madera, Calif., said harvest began May 6 in the Niland area. By May 22 workers were picking around Madera, where Cappelluti expected them to continue until July 1. Harvest of the main crop should begin around July 15, he said.
Kevin Herman, president of the California Fig Growers Association, Fresno, said he thought the breba crop in the San Joaquin Valley would wrap up at the end of June. It was overlapping with picking in the Imperial Valley, which began about the second week of June.
“We won’t be having a gap this year,” said Herman, who is also owner of The Specialty Crop Co., Madera.
“I’ve had a goal for a long time to produce fresh figs from mid-May through mid-January and I think this season is the season it will happen.”
At Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, president George Kragie agreed there likely won’t be a gap between the first and second fig crops, which is good news for marketers. He said the timing and volume so far are pleasant surprises.
“The volume was up a bit on the early crop and we didn’t anticipate that,” Kragie said June 19. “We’ve been caught by surprise. They’ve already started the brown turkey figs and the calimyrnas will begin in mid-July.”
Volume remains consistent
At J. Marchini Farms, Le Grand, Calif., sales and marketing manager Marc Marchini said the breba crop would all be shipped by the end of June, with the late crop expected to produce good yields.
“We’ll meet demand,” he said. “Everyone’s going to get what they need. Retailers have been doing a good job of giving fresh figs their fair share of shelf space and we should be able to fill it.”
Chris DeBenedetto, marketing director for J&R Orchards, Chowchilla, Calif., said even with a bit of fruit drop because of high winds in early May, volumes were better than he expected with the breba. Things are looking just as good for the main crop, he said.
Stockli estimates the state will ship about 11 million pounds of fresh figs this year. Slightly fewer acres are in production this year, but the predicted yield is similar to harvests in 2011 and 2010, when numbers were down because of excessive heat and early-season rain, respectively.
Dry driving fresh price
The strong showing for 2013’s fig crop is good news that will just keep getting better as the season continues, Stockli said.
Early starts and strong volumes from the breba crop are helping retailers snag consumers now, she said. The high quality flavor of the early crop will generate ongoing consumer demand and the strong yields expected from the main crop will enable retailers to meet that demand through the end of the year.
Produce managers aren’t the only ones interested in the fresh crop this year. With virtually no holdovers in storage for the fig processing sector, growers and marketers in the fresh sector expect good prices.
Stockli said she thought prices would be “a few dollars higher” this year for fresh California figs. As president of the growers association, Herman said in some ways, it is a growers’ market.
“I think most ranches are set to pick fresh for the price, if the price is there. If it’s not, there will be enough demand from the dry side that growers will just wait,” Herman said, adding that while dry figs bring lower prices, they are vastly less expensive to harvest because they are not handpicked.
From a marketer’s point of view, Kragie at Western Fresh said the anticipated demand for dry has already given fresh figs a good floor price.