California summer fruit defies drought threat

05/08/2014 02:23:00 PM
Vicky Boyd and Mike Hornick

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.

 

Grapes

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.

 

Stone fruit

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.

 

Cherries

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.


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