Peaches are coming soon from California. These peaches were about five weeks from harvest at the time of this photo. ( Simonian Fruit Co. )

The summer fruit season in California is expected to start later and lighter this year, aside from berries already going strong.

Jeannine Martin, director of sales for the Giumarra Cos. office in Reedley, Calif., said the company plans to begin harvesting white and yellow peaches and yellow nectarines around May 5.

The company expects white nectarines and apricots to start the next week and plums to begin around mid-May.

“We had a really warm early January ... warmer than we liked, but then what happened, the temperatures dipped very low at the end of the month, causing some freeze damage to growing areas in the valley,” Martin said. “Then the temperatures stayed cool for several weeks, and then because of that it delayed our harvest.”

Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co. plans to start its stone fruit season around May 20, about a week later than it normally does. Simonian also reported some freeze damage.

“It looks like it’s going to be a fairly light start to the season, but once we get going with our mid-season and late-season, we think they’re going to be nice crops,” said sales manager Jeff Simonian.

“There may be a little bit of damage here, but for the most part the flowers weren’t open when that (cold) hit in this area, so it didn’t really get the damage that the May stuff did.”


Berries going strong

Grower-shippers are now sourcing strawberries from the Oxnard, Santa Maria and Watsonville regions and reporting strong volumes.

“The weather has slightly delayed the crop, but our volumes and quality are looking exceptional,” said Vinnie Lopes, vice president of sales for the western region for Salinas-based Naturipe Farms.

“(Our) supply is very strong and will remain that way for strawberries through October.”

Raspberries and blackberries are also looking good, with volume tracking about the same as 2017, said Scott Norman, director of blackberry and raspberry product management.

Jim Grabowski, director of marketing for Watsonville-based Well-Pict Berries, said the rains that hampered early production have overall been beneficial for the crops.

“The rains helped clean the soil, and after cleaning out the rain-damaged fruit from the plants, the plants have now loaded up with fruit, and we are seeing huge numbers of good quality fruit now available for harvesting,” Grabowski said.

“We are getting heavy volume of strawberries right now from our Oxnard fields, and these fields will continue producing until we close them down sometime around the middle of May,” he said.

“Our fields in Santa Maria are just getting into heavier production and will probably see peak production sometime around mid-May to mid-June. Watsonville strawberry production is just now getting started and these fields will carry the majority of our summertime production.”

Raspberry production in Watsonville is starting up and will continue into October and November, Grabowski said.


Fewer cherries

California expects a much smaller cherry crop this season after a record year of 9.7 million boxes in 2017.

The official estimate from the California Cherry Board is only 3.5 million boxes because of bad weather conditions throughout the growing season, said Rich Sambado, sales manager for Linden, Calif.-based Primavera Marketing.

The average volume for the state over the past six seasons has been 6.7 million boxes.

“We just experienced a very warm winter throughout California, we then had frost damage over a few day period in late February, and then we had a significant amount of rain, on and off, throughout the month of March,” Sambado said.

Brianna Shales, communications manager for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers, noted another effect of the weather.

“The crop will also begin later than last year, likely not until the first week of May, and run through mid-June,” Shales said.

“The delay again is due to cool weather in the spring/during bloom.”

Higher pricing is expected because of the lower volumes.

“Retailers will still need to go on promotion but they will need to plan those at higher retails,” Shales said.

“Quality and fruit size should impress and help drive the impulse sales that cherries often are.”