PARLIER, Calif. — The California stone fruit industry — specifically peaches, plums and nectarines – has been traveling a rough patch since 2006.
Nectarines and plums have held their own, in general, but peaches have suffered, grower-shippers said. The recession was no help.
F.o.b.s have often peaked in the $11 range for peaches, less than the cost of growing, harvesting and packing the fruit.
The supply and demand ratio could be more balanced for 2011.
“It’s a little too early, but we believe the industry will be down as much as 10% due to pullouts,” said Doug Sankey, marketing manager for Sunwest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier.
Sunwest will be an exception and will have about the same volume as 2010, he said.
Weather permitting, the California cherry deal — the domestic leadoff hitter for the commodity — could set a volume record with very high quality fruit, grower-shippers said.
The table grape industry also may be on track for a record crop with several grower-shippers predicting a season exceeding 100 million cartons.
A very wet winter has all but eliminated concerns about irrigation water on the San Joaquin Valley’s west side. That is good news for the melon industry most of whose acreage is along that side of the valley.
An abundance of California navels will continue to be available, grower-shippers said, through June.
Stone fruit grower-shippers, meanwhile, are not yet ready to abandon ship. Many are focusing their efforts on improving taste, increasing consumption, upgrading packaging and developing stronger relationships with consumers.
“We want consumers to know who we are and to have a level of confidence in how we farm and what our beliefs are,” said Mike Reimer, sales director for Reedley-based Brandt Farms Inc.
To that end, the company is using social media — Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
“These are all mechanisms that a retailer may use to try to personalize who they buy their fruit from,” Reimer said. “Throughout season, we will be unveiling new videos of practices out in the field.”
Among the selling points for Brandt Farms is its longevity. The family-owned company is celebrating its 70th year of growing and shipping fruit.
Not all changes at Brandt Farms are expected to deliver short-term results.
“We have a continuous improvement process,” Reimer said. “We look at every aspect of our cultural, harvesting, handling and cooling practices.”
The goal, he said, is incremental improvements in every one of the practices to benefit the consumer.
Food safety was a primary focus during the off-season at Sunwest.
The company’s packinghouse received Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification, and all of the company’s acreage is now GlobalGAP certified, Sankey said.
At the Reedley operation of Los Angeles-based Giumarra Bros. Fruit Co. Inc., most of the 2011 stone fruit will be shipped in newly designed cartons.
“We’re getting away from the craft look in favor of white cartons,” said John Thiesen, division manager.
The Nature’s Partner label remains on the white cartons, which will be the primary container for two-layer packing, he said, but some fruit will arrive in craft cartons until the supply is exhausted.
Reedley-based Family Tree Farms “is staying the course,” said Don Goforth, marketing director.
“In an industry where we’ve seen a lot of people struggling, we’re doing well on the backs of the right genetics, the right eating varieties,” he said.
Family Tree Farms operates its own research and development center near Traver. Some of the 2011 fruit will reflect for the first time the results of the center’s research, Goforth said.
Staying the course does not translate to resistance to change at Family Tree Farms.
“We’re reinventing ourselves every day,” Goforth said. “It’s not about yields and production. If you really want to increase consumption, you must give people what they want to eat.”
Whether the stone fruit industry gives shoppers what they want to eat will likely be determined by the grower-shippers’ bottom line at the end of the year.