SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California kiwifruit producers are optimistic that the lack of Chilean fruit on the market will translate to strong demand and equally strong prices for their crop, which should hit the market in late September.

The Sacramento, Calif.-based Kiwifruit Administrative Committee met July 23 in Modesto and developed a crop estimate of about 7 million tray equivalents, said Doug Phillips, owner of Visalia-based Phillips Farms and committee member.

If that comes to fruition, it will be slightly more than the roughly 6.8 million tray equivalents harvested last year.

“We think it will be similar volume to last year, which was kind of overwhelming,” Phillips said.

“But it’s an extremely good market for kiwifruit because of production problems in Chile due to frost. So we’re optimistic it’s going to be as good a season as last year, which was as good as I’ve seen and I’ve been in the business for 40 years.”

Chris Kragie, vice president of Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, agreed.

“Chile will be down in their CA (controlled-atmosphere) program for the U.S., so the overall amount of fruit here (will be) minimal,” he said.

Like most other crops in California’s Central Valley, kiwifruit should be early this year, Kragie said.

In late July, he expected harvest to begin the week of Sept. 22, and the crop should peak in the 36-33 size range — about normal.

Harvest typically lasts for about eight weeks, and the fruit is then stored and marketed through April or May. In coming years, Phillips said he expected volume to increase as new plantings come into production. In addition, a handful of growers — including Phillips — have planted new golden kiwifruit varieties that are expected to begin bearing very limited volumes this fall. Unlike the common brown-skinned hayward variety, these newcomers require elaborate trellising and shade structures to protect the plants from the San Joaquin Valley heat and sun, he said