REEDLEY, Calif. — After spring weather reduced stone fruit production in pockets of the San Joaquin Valley by as much as 90% last year, grower-shippers said this season’s crop looks like a return to more normal volumes.
But they were quick to point out that Mother Nature still holds the trump card.
“It looks like a very good set,” said Don Goforth, director of marketing for Reedley, Calif.-based Family Tree Farms Inc. “Obviously, we still have some weather to get through. It’s looking like a good, solid crop but not an overabundant crop — kind of a return to normal.”
San Joaquin Valley stone fruit growers and packers are operating under a new normal, said John Thiesen, division manager of Guimarra Bros. Fruit Co. Inc., Reedley, Calif.
Five years ago, the industry packed 60 million 25-pound boxes. This season, early industry consensus is a packout between 40 million and 43 million boxes, or about two-thirds of what used to be considered normal, he said.
“From what I can see, the early plums have a nice crop, and all the stone fruit have a good crop — what I consider a full crop,” Thiesen said. “But we’re not talking about a full crop like we had four or five years ago, because we had a lot more trees in the ground and a lot more acreage.”
After a couple of unprofitable years, many growers pulled out stone fruit orchards. Some replanted with more desirable varieties, while others either left the ground fallow or replanted with crops other than stone fruit.
Despite the acreage reduction, Thiesen said retailers and consumers still should see good production and good volumes of typically improved varieties.
“It’s not going to be the way it used to be — it will be better,” he said.
As of late March, Goforth said harvest timing appears to be slightly earlier than last season’s.
Dave Parker, a marketing advisor based in Rivermaid Trading Co.’s Dinuba, Calif., office, said the stone fruit crop appeared to be making up for a late bloom this spring.
“The earliest blooms were 12 days later than last year,” he said. “But by the time we got into the later varieties, they were only six to seven days later compared to last year. Now we’re looking at probably only four days later than last year.”
Parker said warm days in March allowed the crop to catch up.
The warm weather also spurred trees to leaf out quickly, Thiesen said. That, in turn, should enhance photosynthesis and sugar accumulation within the fruit.
As far as fruit set itself, Parker said it appears good without being too heavy.
If the weather stays warm without any large spikes or dips through harvest, Thiesen said West Coast retailers could expect to see the first stone fruit from the southern San Joaquin Valley in early May.
“There will be production at Memorial Day ... and it will be a prime product for the consumer,” he said.
The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC, Hanford, Calif., which markets for Hanford-based Warmerdam Packing LLC, doesn’t enter the stone fruit deal until its cherry deal ends in mid-June, said Mo Cameron, global sales manager.
Nevertheless, he said he’s excited about how the peach and nectarine crop is shaping up.
“So far, everything looks good and promising,” Cameron said.
The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. handles a mix of domestic and export sales, with much of the fruit going to foreign buyers.