Stemilt Growers' 5 River Islands program should run June 5-18, says marketing director Roger Pepperl. ( Photo courtesy Stemilt Growers Inc. )

California summer fruit suppliers are anticipating a brisk May-August season in 2019, with plenty of supplies to fill orders. That is, once it gets going.

Grapes from California
Courtesy California Table Grape Commission

 

Grapes

“I think the biggest challenge is that the crop timing looks a little later than last year,” said John Harley, sales manager with Bakersfield, Calif.-based grape grower-shipper Anthony Vineyards.
 
Quality will not be an issue, though, he said.

“The quality looks to be much better (than in 2018),” he said.

Weather had been an ally through most, if not all, of the growing season, Harley said April 2.

“Hopefully it stays that way,” he said.

Harley said he expected to start around May 10 and run through the end of June.

There should be plenty of fruit to promote, which would be roughly the same as in 2018, Harley said.

Citrus

Various issues complicated California’s citrus crop early in 2019, but things had begun to settle by early April, said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“This season has been anything but stellar for the citrus producer unless you were exclusive to lemons,” he said. 

He ticked off numerous issues that conspired to affect winter supplies, but he said the summer was shaping up to be a good one.

“The size structure is better, although large sizes will remain a premium in price for both navels and mandarins,” he said.
 
“The lemon deal will pick up steam as we move into major harvesting and demand for fresh lemons remains solid. The valencia orange season will start for export purposes as some countries and their consumers prefer that piece of fruit.”

The industry will have “good-quality fruit” through the Fourth of July for oranges, Nelsen said, noting that mandarin varieties will wind down in May and lemons will be strong into the summer, pending offshore product at lower prices arriving. 

Santa Paula, Calif.-based citrus grower-shipper Limoneira Co. anticipates the total crop to be down 10% to 15%, compared to 2018, said John Chamberlain, director of marketing.

“The coastal crop, District 2, is currently closing in on 50% harvested and will be running into the summer months,” he said in early April. “The coastal crop was initially hurt very badly last July with record heat, which caused the fruit to drop.”

Southern Hemisphere volume “will more than make up any shortfall,” Chamberlain said.

Fresno-based Trinity Fruit Sales Co. Inc. is seeing “one of the biggest mandarin crops we’ve ever had,” said Levon Ganajian, retail relations director.

“I think this crop is going a lot longer,” he said. “Normally, we go through April, but this year, I think we’re going through May.”

After that, Trinity will import mandarins for the first time, from Peru, Chile and Uruguay, Ganajian said.

Melons

There should be plenty of melons over the summer, suppliers say.

“The crop looks very good,” said Daren Van Dyke, director of sales and marketing with Brawley, Calif.-based Five Crowns Marketing, which offers the Origami cantaloupe from early May until the end of June.

A colder-than-normal winter likely will force a delay of perhaps 10 days on the first shipments, Van Dyke said.

“We’ll start maybe May 7-9, where last year we actually started in April,” he said.

Watermelons would begin to move in volume during the last week of April, Van Dyke said.

“We’re telling retailers that, starting April 24 through May, you’re looking at a very healthy, promotable crop,” Van Dyke said. 

“We’ll transition from Hermosillo to Arizona — and that’s a big crop. There’s nobody that has the volume we have for Fourth of July production.”

Firebaugh, Calif.-based Westside Produce expected cantaloupes and honeydews in plentiful volume by early May, said Garrett Patricio, chief operation officer.

“Crops have rebounded and we should have ample supply into May and June and no shortages into October for both cantaloupes and honeydews,” he said.

Courtesy The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC

Stone fruit

Trinity Fruit anticipated a May 5 start for stone fruit.

“I think we’re going to have one of the biggest crops we’ve ever had,” Ganajian said. 

Fowler, Calif.-based stone fruit grower-shipper Simonian Fruit Co. said its plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines were running a bit late, but it was looking good.

“The crop looks good,” sales manager Jeff Simonian said, although he added that it was still too early to provide a detailed forecast.

Hanford, Calif.-based The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC is getting ready for its Verry Cherry plum — a high-brix fruit cross between various cherry and plum varieties, said Maurice Cameron, president.

Flavor Tree is looking to begin harvesting Verry Cherry this year around the third week of June, with the deal going into August, Cameron said.

Volume this year is projected to grow by more than 100% over a year ago, Cameron said.

“It’s about a 200,000-box program and will be about a half million-box program this year,” he said. “It’s been really successful, and we’re in all sorts of retailers now — national retailers and regional, as well as specialty retailers. It’s been extremely successful from the customers telling stores to carry the items. Some stores, we’re looking at programs that are 89% larger than 2018.”

Flavor Tree offers Verry Cherry in 1.5- to 2-pound, high-graphic pouch bags and 1-pound clamshells, Cameron said.

The Verry Cherry is “juicy like a plum and has the size of a small plum, but from the cherry side, it’s crunchy and sweet and has a nice cherry flavor,” Cameron said.

The company exports the item, too, he noted.

“We export a lot of it to mainland China, even with all the tariffs and trade wars,” Cameron said. “We did about 40,000 boxes in 2018, even with 50% tariffs.”

Flavor Tree has rights to almost all Verry Cherries grown, with about 450 acres in production, Cameron said.

“Somebody else has 18 acres that was planted before we signed the contract, but we are pretty much the game for it,” he said. “Almost all of it is grown in the Hanford area.”

The Verry Cherry season runs from June 20 to about Aug. 15, Cameron said.

California Giant strawberries
Courtesy California Giant Berry Farms

 

Other

First-quarter rains presented some challenges to harvesting and shipping berries heading into Easter, but the pace likely would pick up quickly thereafter, said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing with Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms.

“April through the summer months will provide us with ample opportunity to catch up with sales at retail and within foodservice outlets,” Jewell said. 

“Santa Maria and the Watsonville/Salinas regions will carry our strawberries into the summer and well into the fall months. 

Additionally, our blackberries and raspberries will be in full peak season in California throughout the summer in our Watsonville and Salinas region. Our blueberries will be available in California for late spring as the harvest shifts to Oregon and British Columbia during the summer months.”

The pear crop was off a late start, too, said Kyle Persky, sales manager for Lodi, Calif.-based Rivermaid Trading Co.

Full bloom on bartletts in the first growing district arrived the week of April 8, Persky said.

“Growers are feeling like there is outstanding crop potential,” he said.

Cherries were “seriously late,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director with Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers LLC, which expects to harvest its first tulares and corals around May 6; royal hazel, May 20; rainier, May 28; and bing, May 30.

“We also have a fantastic 5 River Islands-branded program from the Delta Island area that is our late program, which is predominately lapin and will pick from June 5-18,” Pepperl said. 

California’s cherry crop this year could range from 5 million to 10 million boxes, compared to less than 4 million a year ago, Pepperl said.

“We may pick a little later this year, but the Washington crop, which we are huge in, will be late also and the overlap should be minimal or close to none,” he said.

 
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