Date growers expect higher yields to match demand

10/03/2013 05:10:00 PM
Melissa Shipman

Date growers report increased supplies for medjools.

“Medjool date harvest is going well. The size of the fruit and the volume should be up about 20%,” said Ben Antongiovanni, sales manager for Atlas Produce and Distribution, Bakersfield, Calif.

That increase is due to new trees coming into production. It takes about 4-7 years for new plantings to produce fruit, Antongiovanni said.

Consequently, there should be more product in the market this year.

“We’ll have more fruit to sell,” Antongiovanni said.

Others have also noticed the increase.

“We expect an increase in production acreage as younger trees become more mature. We’re seeing a higher yield,” said John Burton, general manager of sales and cooler for Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, Calif.

Erin Hanagan, marketing manager for DatePac LLC, Yuma, Ariz., agrees.

“We’re in the middle of harvest right now, and we expect to have higher yields than last year,” she said.

Quality is expected to be exceptional, Burton said.

“Size is relatively normal, but the color and quality look to be exceptional,” he said.

Burton says the mild weather has played a role in the development of the crop.

“It hasn’t been an overly hot summer so we’re expecting good yields,” he said.

Lorrie Cooper, manager of the California Date Administrative Committee and the California Date Commission, Indio, Calif., said the increase in production this year should start a trend that will continue for about a decade.

“For the last 10-15 years, production has been at a steady rate of 30 to 40 million pounds produced each year. It’s expected the production will begin a steady increase over the next ten years,” Cooper said.

Increasing demand

The increase in date supplies means that marketers are already working to get the word out and increase awareness.

“We need to get dates in front of consumers and have them try it. Definitely with more fruit coming in, we need to get the word out,” Antongiovanni said.

One aspect that Atlas Produce has found to help is the promotion of its product as being grown in California.

“People just prefer the California dates over those that are grown overseas,” Antongiovanni said.

To take advantage of that, the company signed up with the California Grown initiative.

“We put that label on our packages, which helps,” he said.

Atlas began using the California Grown label on its packaging last year.

“It’s still kind of a new thing for us,” Antongiovanni said.

Hanagan said DatePac also sends a significant amount of dates to other countries.

“Exporting is about 50% of the business for us. We have a very strong export market,” she said.

Most of the company’s dates are shipped to Australia, Hanagan said.



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