FRESNO, Calif. — One year ago, nectarines appeared ready to challenge peaches as top dog among California stone fruit.

In 2008, grower-shippers packed 22.3 million cartons of California nectarines, just 1.4 million cartons shy of the peach total, according to Reedley-based California Tree Fruit Agreement statistics.

If nectarines are to become a legitimate contender, however, the commodity must regroup.

Nectarine volume dropped to 16.6 million cartons in 2009, nearly 1 million cartons below the preseason forecast and 4.2 million cartons below last year’s peach volume.

All of the California fruit in the category — peaches, plums and nectarines — should rebound this year, sources said.

On a percentage basis, the biggest jump in nectarine volume this year may be at Crown Jewels Marketing LLC.
The company will pack all the Crown Jewels stone fruit inventory this season at newly-acquired Reedley Packing, said Atomic Torosian, managing co-partner.

In 2009, Crown Jewels had limited volumes of stone fruit, but will have a full program this year, Torosian said.

“We’ll have the conventional yellow-flesh nectarines beginning in mid-May, and we’ll also be marketing good supplies of white-flesh nectarines,” he said.

The company’s white-flesh nectarine season will begin about June 1, he said.

Trinity Fruit Sales Co. will be packing and marketing both yellow-flesh and white-flesh nectarines by mid-May, said John Hein, salesman.

“We’re scheduled to starting picking our first yellow-flesh varieties about May 10, and the start date for our white-flesh nectarines is May 15,” he said.

Trinity Fruit will pack this season at Trinity Fruit Packing, the newly-named packinghouse acquired from Surabian Packing.

The first of the yellow-flesh nectarines at Dinuba-based Fruit Patch Sales Inc. were scheduled for picking in early May, said Sheri Mierau, vice president of sales and marketing.

“We’ll harvest our first white-flesh nectarines in late May, and we’ll be shipping yellow- and white-flesh nectarines all summer long,” she said.

Simonian Fruit Co., Fowler, grows primarily yellow-flesh nectarines, said Jeff Simonian, salesman.

“We have just one white-flesh variety of nectarines,” he said. “All of our peaches and our other nectarines are traditional, yellow-flesh varieties.”

The first of Simonian Fruit’s nectarines are scheduled to start shipping about May 20, Simonian said.

WesPak Sales Inc., Dinuba, grows and packs yellow-flesh and white-flesh nectarine varieties, said Sam Stewart, salesman. Picking of the company’s first nectarines is scheduled to begin in mid- to late May, he said.

Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, is scheduled to ship more than a dozen varieties of nectarines by the end of May, said Dan Spain, vice president of sales and marketing. Six of the nectarine varieties are proprietary.

Among the yellow-flesh varieties, Kingsburg Orchards was scheduled to start packing ruby fires on April 23. The company’s first patented yellow-flesh nectarine, honey may, was to start April 28 with another proprietary variety, red jewel, scheduled for harvest beginning May 28.

Four patented varieties should kick off the Kingsburg Orchards’ white-flesh nectarine season, Spain said.

“The May pearl harvest will begin May 8,” he said, “and we’ll follow with polar ice on May 11.”

Picking of two other proprietary varieties that have yet to be named are 626 on May 11 and 558 on May 15, Spain said.

The nectarine focus at Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, is heavily on a recently patented variety, said Gene Coughlin, a category manager.

“Overall, our stone fruit volume will be up over last year, but we’re still experimenting with this block of nectarines,” he said.

Volume of the unnamed variety should hit 4,000 cartons, he said.

Stone fruit volume at Sunwest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, is expected to be up over 2009 as much as 15%, said Jesse Silva, salesman.

The increase will be due in part to acquired acreage and newer orchards coming into production, he said.

“We should begin harvesting our first zee fire nectarines about mid-May,” Silva said.

The company’s white-flesh nectarine season will begin about June 1, he said.