California nut, date and dried fruit crops all look healthy this year, with many categories experiencing sales boosts as a result of COVID-19 demand.
Coachella, Calif.-based Sun Date began its organic and conventional medjool date harvest the week of Sept. 7, said DJ Ryan, sales and operations manager.
Steady picking will continue for five or six weeks, then volume will be reduced for the final two or three weeks of the harvest.
The desert had hot, dry weather this summer, “which is what we want,” he said.
Volume may be up over last year because of younger date gardens coming into production.
The deglet noor variety will begin harvesting around the middle of October and will continue through December.
Nearly all of the medjool dates go to the consumer market or to repackers, while about half of the deglet noors are destined for industrial use — such as baking or energy bars, he said.
About 75% of the company’s medjool dates are organically grown, while up to 65% of the deglet noors are organic.
The company is complying with COVID-19 protocols, like following social distancing guidelines and checking temperatures as employees report to work.
“We don’t want to put our employees in jeopardy,” Ryan said.
Coachella-based Woodspur Farms LLC started its full medjool date harvest Sept. 8, said Tony Somohano, director of wholesale sales.
“It looks like we’re going to have a better-than-average quality year and a better-than-average sales year,” he said.
The harvest season for prunes finished in early September, but dried plums are enjoyed year-round, said Donn Zea, executive director of the Roseville-based California Prune Board.
Zea described this year’s prune harvest as “a high-quality crop” with “great sugar levels.”
This is the second short crop in a row — 50,000 short tons, down from last year’s 85,000 short tons — but that’s not a bad marketing scenario.
“We feel we are headed in the right direction in terms of having the right size of an inventory for the amount of demand,” Zea said.
Up to 90% of prunes are sold as a snack item with the remainder used for things like puree, paste, extract or powder.
California produces 99% of U.S.-grown prunes, Zea said.
Bakersfield, Calif.-based Atlas Produce and Distribution Inc. started harvesting figs toward the end of August, said salesman Luke Fountain.
Figs naturally fall off the tree, and they’re swept to the middle of the row, where they’re allowed to sit and sweeten for a couple of weeks before they’re picked up by an almond harvester. Then they’re sun dried and allowed to sweeten some more before being cleaned, sorted and packed, he said.
The harvest continues into October; the dried fruit usually is sold starting about January.
Volume should be similar to last year, and size and quality look good, Fountain said.
Atlas offers black mission and golden California fig varieties.
Sales of California almonds have risen significantly since COVID-19 hit, said Richard Waycott, CEO of the Modesto-based Almond Board of California.
The industry saw a 30% increase in shipments in March compared to the prior year and a 15% boost in April, as consumers sought foods seen as nutritious and shelf stable. Domestic and international sales have continued above 2019’s, he said.
The almond harvest started about Aug. 1 and will continue until mid-October. About 70% of California’s almonds are exported to places like India, China/Hong Kong, Germany and Spain, from where they’re processed and distributed across Europe and North Africa.
August was a record-breaking month for California almonds, with global shipments up 31% over 2019, “which is almost unheard of,” Waycott said.
Almond production for 2019-20 was a record 2.55 billion pounds, breaking the previous record of 2.27 billion pounds in 2018-19, according to the almond board.
On the walnut scene, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late August reported the 2020 crop at 780,000 short tons, an increase of 19% over the prior year.
“The industry has been expecting increases given continued growth in new acreage, more densely planted orchards and heavier-yielding varieties and has planned accordingly,” grower Robert Driver, chairman of Folsom-based California Walnut Commission, said in a news release.