( Photo courtesy Weronika Marcińczyk; Source Unsplashed )

After a relatively light early crop — harvested from May to late June — California fig growers anticipate a full main crop when harvesting begins in July. 

Last year, the state produced 10 million to 12 million pounds of fresh figs, said Karla Stockli, CEO of the Madera-based California Fig Advisory Board.

In all, growers produced about 27 million pounds of fresh and dried figs.

The 2020 fresh-market crop should be similar to last year’s, she said.

“We’ve had really good weather patterns and conditions this year.”

All of the dried figs and 98% of the fresh figs grown commercially in the U.S. are from California, the board says.

The state has more than 100 fig producers who grow on 9,300 acres, mostly in and around Madera, Fresno and Merced in Central California.

Several varieties of figs are grown in the state.

The most common are black mission, available from mid-May to November; kadota, late June to October; brown turkey, early June to November; and calimyrna, July to September.

Sierra, a newer variety with a light-colored skin and a sweet Riesling flavor, almost has replaced the calimyrna, Stockli said.

About 60% of the state’s figs are dried. The remainder are fresh.

Demand for this year’s early — or breva — crop was up, she said.

“That’s encouraging, because most of us have been waiting to see what happens with the different consumer behaviors once we start to open the various states up (following the COVID-19 lockdown),” she said.

The Specialty Crop Co., Madera, farms half of the state’s fresh and dried figs and grows just about every variety, said Kevin Herman, president and owner.

The company expects to start its main crop with the brown turkey variety on July 10, or shortly thereafter.

Black mission will follow, then the sierra will come on. The last variety will be a relatively new one called the tiger fig, available from mid-August until Oct. 1.

About one-third of the company’s figs are sold as fresh, the rest are dried.

Fresh figs are grown in separate orchards fairly low to the ground so they can be harvested without ladders, Herman said.

They are labor intensive because they’re picked by hand and field packed.

At the peak of the season, the company has 700 workers picking fresh figs six days a week.

Demand for fresh figs is “growing like crazy,” Herman said. “It’s a struggle to keep up with demand.”

Figs for the dried category are grown on trees that can be 30 feet tall, and the harvesting process is mechanized, he said.

The main fig growing region received adequate water this year, and Herman said he anticipates good quality for the coming crop.

Madera-based Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc. only grows fresh-market figs, said president George Kragie.

The company has the southernmost field in California in the Coachella Valley, he said, where it will harvest a brown turkey crop until mid-July. 

The firm returns to the Coachella Valley in September and picks until Christmas — the latest season for fresh figs in the U.S., Kragie said. 

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