California fresh pomegranate volumes are likely to rise modestly over last year despite the state’s drought, though grower-shipper opinion on how the fall market could shape up varies.

The Sonoma, Calif.-based Pomegranate Council estimates 6 million 25-pound box equivalents will ship this year.

“We were just under that last year, so we’re looking at a comparable crop,” said Tom Tjerandsen, council manager.

Sales of the fruit continue to grow about 20% annually, he said.

“Fruit sizing is yet to be determined, but we expect a bigger crop than last year,” Tom Rouse, vice president at Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful, said July 30.

Pom Wonderful expects to start production of the wonderful variety in late September and begin shipping in quantity by Oct. 1. Like many California crops, pomegranates — including the early varieties — are shipping a week or so earlier than usual.

“We will be shipping arils earlier than we’ve ever shipped them,” Rouse said.

“They’ll be available the same time we start shipping Pom Fresh. In the past we’ve waited a week or two, but this year we’ve got it figured out and will ship arils the same day we start shipping fresh fruit.”

Atomic Torosian, managing partner of Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Produce, expects fruit to be one size smaller than last year.

Crown Jewels began packing the granada variety around Aug. 5 and early foothills Aug. 12-15. Early wonderfuls were on track for the first week of September, and wonderfuls for the start of October.

Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co. produces several early pomegranate varieties as well as wonderfuls. The fruit is its big fall item.

“It’s probably going to be a normal crop or maybe a little light,” said Jeff Simonian, sales manager.

“We think maybe the market will be a bit higher than last year because there have been a fair amount of pullouts the last couple winters. Pomegranate growers haven’t done real well. We think the crop may be less in overall volume and the market a little higher because of the pullouts.”

Bakersfield, Calif.-based Slayman Marketing, which focuses on early varieties, began a six-week deal about Aug. 1.

“We’ll have 6,000 to 7,000 more boxes this year than last,” said Ralph Melendez, ranch manager.

“We had a better set. It seems like demand is good. We’ve had a lot of calls. Maybe the stone fruit deal is short.”

An early start to wonderfuls may shorten growers’ traditional worry about getting them picked before any October rainfall.

“At PMA (Fresh Summit) they’re usually biting their nails,” Tjerandsen said.

“We’re at the end of the harvest then and the risk of rain is starting to increase exponentially. So they hope that with the start of the harvest around Oct. 1, by Oct. 15 they’ll have virtually everything completed.”

“We need rain in the worst way, but we’re hoping we get all the wonderful variety in the barn before it starts raining, and then it can rain all it wants,” Torosian said.

If all goes well, fresh pomegranates can be shipped through January.

Numbers on processed pomegranates — largely handled by Pom Wonderful — are not available.