Passion Fruit Farms grows mostly black missions and brown turkeys, and Gladwin said she is seeing growing interest in the fruit.
She already sends many of her figs to Canada — as do most California growers. Toronto is particularly fig-aware, she said, partly because of the international tone of the city and the presence of ethnic groups from Europe who are used to eating fresh figs and cooking with them year-round.
Down south, in the Imperial Valley, Kevin Herman, owner and president of The Specialty Crop Co. said his crews have been picking in some orchards since mid-May. Herman oversees about 4,500 acres of figs, which he said is about half the fig acreage in the state.
The first crop in Herman’s southernmost orchards also looks like it will be slightly down in terms of volume, but he said the fruit is looking very good qualitywise and the trees are in great shape for the second crop, which he expects to be on time in August.
He said he was a bit concerned about how prices would run, though, partly because of imports from Chile.
In his role with the industry as chairman of the Fresh Fig Commission and vice chairman of the Dried Fig Commission, Herman has been keeping a close eye on the first season of fresh fig imports from Chile. The deal was just winding down as the California crops started coming in.
“I think our prices began a little lower this year because of some poor-quality fruit out of Chile,” Herman said. “But as our fruit hits the market, the prices should come back up as people taste the better figs.”
Others in the California fig industry expressed similar concerns about the quality of the Chilean fresh figs and the impact that could have on consumers in the U.S.
Hollnagel at Stellar Distributing and Stockli at the fig board both agreed low-quality fruit from Chile could turn off inexperienced fig eaters in the U.S.
Hollnagel said the Chileans were at a disadvantage because they had to fumigate their fruit, which shortened its shelf-life — already short because of travel time from South America.
“Their price point was so high that I don’t know if many consumers were interested,” Hollnagel said. “It’s kind of a niche market in the off season. Some restaurants need them year-round for certain gourmet dishes they have on their menus, and they are willing to pay top prices to have the fruit when they need it.”
Kragie, who imported some of the Chilean figs through Western Fresh, agreed that the imported figs were at a disadvantage because of the fumigation requirement, but he said he expected increasing cooperation between Chilean and Californian growers.