Fig acreage in California has become a moving target in recent years, but as consumer awareness and demand for fresh varieties is increasing industry leaders want to sharpen their focus on an optimum level that will provide appropriate supplies.
The acreage topic was on the agenda for the June 25 annual meeting of the Fresno-based California Fig Growers Association, said Kevin Herman, association president. Herman and Karla Stockli, chief executive officer for the California Fig Advisory Board, expected a lively discussion.
“The industry has planted about 1,000 new acres in recent years and the first of those trees are coming into production this year,” Stockli said, adding that the plantings were staggered so the increasing yields will phase in during the next five years.
About 25% of those 1,000 acres are exclusively fresh varieties. The remainder can be used for the fresh or dry sectors depending on annual demands, Stockli said.
The most recent numbers from the association show California has about 7,500 bearing fig acres now. Stockli said some growers have pulled out fig orchards in recent years and replaced them for less labor-intensive, more profitable tree nut crops.
Other growers are shifting away from some fig varieties and adding acres of other varieties, which has created a stagnant situation in terms of overall industry growth, Herman said.
“A lot of people are getting out of the calimyrnas because they are more susceptible to weather and their thin skins are not good for shipping,” Herman said.
George Kragie, president of Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, Calif., said growers he works with added about 40 acres in the desert and another 40 acres in the Chowchilla, Calif., area that should be coming into production this season.
He said he isn’t seeing an overall increase, but is seeing transitions to other varieties as described by Stockli and Herman.
Stockli said fresh buyers should be pleased to learn that many of the acres that have come out in recent years were planted with the condrias variety, generally used for fig paste.
“We’ve had a glut the past couple of years with fig paste, and some of the growers are replacing those varieties with what we believe are more desirable varieties for the fresh sector,” Stockli said.
At J. Marchini Farms, Le Grand, Calif., sales and marketing manager Marc Marchini said the company’s fig acres are at status quo and will stay that way.
“We only do black missions,” Marchini said.
“We won’t be planting any more, but we aren’t cutting any either. We are looking at adding acres of tree nuts instead of expanding our figs because the nuts have more potential for growth and have such lower labor costs.”