Early blooms pointed to several California summer fruits hitting the market two to three weeks ahead of typical start dates, with minimal effects on volumes despite a drought that prompted growers of row crops and other items to fallow acreage.
A drought emergency has been in effect since Gov. Jerry Brown declared it in January, but most growers say they’ll squeeze by this year, tapping wells and groundwater to keep production close to recent levels.
It’s not a permanent solution, though. Another dry winter would result in more dire consequences in 2015.
Early season grapes were likely to start 10-14 days ahead of schedule, said John Pandol, special projects manager for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc.
Kathleen Nave, president of the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission, said she expects the first shipments from the Coachella Valley by early May and from the San Joaquin Valley around June 23.
California grapes are coming off a record season — 117.4 million boxes in 2013-14.
Pandol cited an increase in drought-inspired removal of marginal vineyards as one of his reasons for predicting slightly fewer boxes this season.
“We had adequate chill hours and a really warm spring, so once stuff came out it got going. The whole cycle is ahead of schedule,” he said.
In late March the commission had yet to estimate the crop, but Nave said she expects a slight pullback from 2013 as growers removed and replanted older vineyards or regrafted to other varieties.
Grape prices for 8.2-kilogram containers of bagged thompson seedless size extra large from Chile brought $26-28 in late April, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A year before, thompsons from Chile brought $20-22.
Bloom and early warmth put stone fruit, depending on variety, 10-14 days ahead of average past starts, said John Thiesen, division manager of The Giumarra Co., Reedley. Other growers expects fruit a week or two early. Last year peaches started around May 1.
Though early this year, bloom was also more erratic than usual, Thiesen said. That may have been an aftereffect of the weeklong freeze in December that hit the San Joaquin Valley.
Cartons of two-layer tray packs of size 40-42 yellow-flesh peaches from Chile brought $22-24 in late April.
Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers LLC, owner of Chinchiolo Stemilt California LLC, Stockton, expects to pack more cherries this season because of additional acreage and the arrival of younger orchards into production. Briana Shales, communications manager, reported bloom was sporadic, but found reason for optimism.
“Unlike last year, where everything was really compacted and most of the cherries came off in the same month, this will spread it out, which will be good for the market,” she said.
With orchards in the south San Joaquin Valley ahead of other regions, Shales said Stemilt expects a normal-sized crop.
With growers prioritizing water use for permanent crops like tree fruit, it would seem easy for melons to fall by the wayside. Indeed, cantaloupe and honeydew acreage is being fallowed in Bakersfield and Huron, but the more active producers say overall supply will be sufficient.
“There will be no shortage of Westside cantaloupes this year by any stretch,” Steve Patricio, president and chief executive officer of Westside Produce, said March 21. “There may not be as many as in the past, but depending on sizing, there will be adequate supplies.” Honeydews too should have roughly normal volumes. He said he expects a July 1 start for production.
Even in Bakersfield, watermelon was being planted in normal amounts.
Apples were another crop with early flowers.
“Bloom is running about 10 days earlier than last year, which itself was a week ahead of normal,” said Alex Ott, executive director of the Fresno-based California Apple Commission.
Stockton-based Primavera Marketing Inc., which produced 1.1 million boxes last year, expects to start galas, the state’s dominant variety, around July 20, sales manager Rich Sambado said March 27. Fujis come in force around Aug. 20; granny smiths around Aug. 25.
Fujis, hardest hit by 100-degree plus temperatures in orchards last year, should show bigger numbers.
Growers were confident Washington inventories will empty out in time for California to enjoy its annual summer niche.
California’s late navel oranges, which often ship up to the Fourth of July, were likely to be done by mid-May or June 1. That’s a result of the December freeze that wiped out $441 million worth of San Joaquin Valley citrus.
“It might provide some opportunities for valencia business domestically that we typically don’t have,” Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said March 24.
California valencia volume is estimated at about 24 million cartons by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, down from 25 million last year on roughly 2,000 fewer acres.
Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers expects to ship valencias through summer and into late September or early October, said Joan Wickham, manager for advertising and public relations.
Sunkist expects to ship its California star ruby grapefruit through July, when its summer marsh ruby variety comes online.
Prices for 7/10-bushel cartons shippers first grade size 48-56s navel oranges brought $18.80-20.90 in late April, according to the USDA. A year before, cartons were $15.73-16.75.
For grapefruit, 7/10 bushel cartons marked rio star fancy of size 40 Texas fruit brought $9.90-11.25, according to the USDA. A year ago,
cartons brought $7.80-8.80
California strawberry shipments were expects to average 7 million or more trays per week in May, roughly normal peak volume. Producers planned to continue pushing for retail promotions.
Water was not an immediate issue.
“It’s going to be a Ventura County issue more than anywhere else, but Ventura will be out of the market in about two months anyway,” Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the commission, said in March.
Flats of eight 1-pound lidded containers of medium-large strawberries from Santa Maria and Watsonville, Calif., brought $9-10 in late April, according to the USDA. A year before, flats of eight brought $8-9.
California blueberries peak April through June, and the warm winter brought that deal to life about three weeks ahead of normal.
The state totaled 53.9 million pounds of blueberries last year, up sharply from about 48 million in 2012. An estimate on the current crop was expected in early April.
“We probably anticipate a higher crop, but our biggest concern is just having enough water to keep the plants fed,” Alex Ott, executive director of the Fresno-based California Blueberry Commission, said March 28.
Flats of a dozen 6-ounce cups with lids of medium-large blueberries from central and Southern California were bringing $33-34 in late April, according to reports from the USDA. A year before, flats brought $20-24.90.