The California fig crop is early this year. Madera, Calif.-based Stellar Distributing Inc. began the season on April 23 this year.

“It’s the earliest we’ve ever started,” said Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager.

Others agree.

“It’s exceptionally early this year, about two weeks earlier than last year,” said Kevin Herman, owner and president of Madera-based The Specialty Crop Co.

First California figs hit marketplace earlyHerman credited this to higher than average temperatures.

“The lack of rain meant we didn’t have much fog, so the trees were warmer during the winter, and we’ve just had warmer than normal temperatures this spring,” he said.

George Kragie, president of Madera-based Western Fresh Marketing, said the early season will likely also be short.

“It’s been fast and furious so far, coming on very early and finishing very quickly for the early crop. We normally might get five weeks, but this year, we were lucky to get three weeks,” Kragie said.

Still, it looks like there will be high volumes for fresh and dried figs.

“It seems like a slightly larger crop than last year on the fresh side, so that will hopefully translate to the dried crop as well,” said Linda Cain, vice president for marketing and sales at Valley Fig Growers, Fresno, Calif., which markets dried figs.

With demand for fresh figs growing each year, some growers have adjusted their product mix, although the majority of figs grown are still for the dried market.

“On a pound basis, we’re probably about 25% fresh and 75% dried, but that number is slowly evolving. About 10 years ago, it probably would have been 10% and 90%.” Herman said.

Pricing may be up despite good supplies, largely because of labor issues.

“It’s important for trade to know that, unfortunately, prices for fresh figs will be up. We have labor increases hitting us on July 1, and we have to pass those costs on,” Herman said.

He expects prices to be up for dried figs as well, although the labor may be less intensive on those harvests.

Water is also a concern.

“I expect some upward pressure on pricing based on demand and the current water issues,” Cain said.

Karla Stockli, chief executive officer of the California Fig Advisory Board, Fresno, said that consumers seem to be ready for fresh figs from California, despite higher prices and the earlier start to the season.

“Demand is up and fresh figs are in full distribution, reaching consumers and foodservice professionals across the country,” Stockli said.

Others agree water issues are concerning.

“We had to go out and purchase water above what would have been our normal allocation, which was almost zero this year. That will be our challenge. We’ve got the water, but it’s terribly expensive,” said Maury DeBenedetto, partner in DeBenedetto Fruit Co. LLC, Fresno.

Imports from Chile were down this spring.

“From my perspective, the quality was poor, which is unfortunate because it can have a negative impact on everybody if consumers lose faith in fresh figs,” Herman said.

Kragie said the fact that not everyone has really embraced imported figs helps drive excitement for the California deal.

“I’d say probably 70% to 80% of outlets do not take off-season figs, so there’s excitement for the first figs each year,” he said.

“I’m already getting hammered on the website about when the calimyrnas will start.”

He expects the first calimyrna figs to begin around July 1.