California summer fruit grower-shippers traditionally credit weather with having a say in what kind of season they’ll have.
This year, weather conditions have cooperated, but the coronavirus COVID-19 that blew across the U.S. in March has created a tempest of its own.
However that plays out, suppliers say they will have plenty of citrus, grapes, stone fruit, melons and other items available throughout the May-August season.
Valencia season will be starting soon, although a major sales channel for the fruit — foodservice — has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the restaurant closures it has wrought, said Casey Creamer, president/CEO of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
California’s citrus season is about 40% harvested as the summer season begins, he noted.
“We’ve been all right this year, as far as harvesting,” Creamer said. “We’ve been able to get in there and pick. We’d prefer a little more water; that would be helpful. We had a warmer-than-usual winter, but for the most part, we’ve got a pretty good crop on the tree, and it’s been holding well.”
Alex Teague, COO of Santa Paula, Calif.-based grower-shipper Limoneira Co., agreed.
“Citrus supplies look strong for the summer period from California,” he said. “Lemons from California will have ample supplies all summer long while other summer citrus items such as valencias and grapefruit also have good supplies.”
California’s navel crop — which account for around 40% of California citrus — was about 75% picked as of April 10, and returns have been largely below product costs, Creamer said.
“Navels will improve, but there isn’t much left to make up what people have lost,” he said.
The mandarin market has been “good,” and lemons have “sort of held on pricing,” even with a “huge drop” in sales in their major channel, foodservice, Creamer said.
“Overall, I’d say pricing in citrus has been on a downward trend for the last couple of years,” he said.
California’s cherry estimate forecasts just over 6.5 million boxes, “which is about spot-on for our 10-year average, said Richard Sambado, sales manager with Stockton, Calif.-based grower-shipper Primavera Marketing Inc.
“We’re trending early, looking at to start the last few days of April — a little bit earlier than normal and definitely earlier than last year,” he said. “We’ll do a bit of Mother’s Day promotion and all retailers generally promote every Memorial Day.”
Some cherry varieties will be down this year after big years in 2019, said Kyle Persky, sales manager with Lodi, Calif.-based Rivermaid Trading Co.
“We didn’t have a lot of chill over the winter months, but the biggest factor was just over-cropped last year,” he said.
Too much rain held back a big crop a year ago, and suppliers packed only about 5.5 million boxes, Persky said.
“If weather had cooperated, it could have been 12 million-plus,” he said, adding that California had a 10 million-box crop in 2017.
The early district will wrap up in mid-May, and the Northern district will get underway around May 10-11, Persky said.
The bing crop in Lodi and Stockton should start May 20 and go through June 3 or 4, he said.
“The bings are OK, certainly not a bumper crop,” he said. “The crop is a little earlier than normal, but the bings were advanced, so it will be a two-week bing harvest.”
Suppliers are anticipating 2.75 million boxes of bing cherries this year, Persky said.
In all, California’s cherry season should run from about May 7 to June 1, said Brianna Shales, communications manager for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers LLC.
“Quality should be very strong because of the lighter crop set, and at Stemilt, because of our advanced farming practices that focus on yielding cherries with good size and flavors,” she said.
Brawley, Calif.-based melon grower-shipper Five Crowns Marketing will start its new Origami cantaloupe crop May 1, and honeydews and variety melons start May 10-15, said Daren Van Dyke, director of sales and marketing.
“We are doing conditioned (gassed) honeydews for the first time this year,” he said.
Five Crowns’ first watermelons will ship out of Mendota and Tracy in June, Van Dyke said.
“Overall, I’m very pleased with the crop, our start, what our sets look like,” he said. “The biggest thing is how is business going to be in an uncertain time.”
Timing of melons in both Arizona and California appeared similar to past years, said Garrett Patricio, COO at Westside Produce, a Firebaugh, Calif.-based cantaloupe grower-shipper.
“More than 60% of the domestic melon supply comes from these two states and, despite a trend down in acreage, consistency in production levels has been key to supplying North America,” he said.
Westside Produce’s spring desert program will begin in May and continue through June, and its summer Central Valley program should start in early July and finish sometime in late October, Patricio said.
Grape grower-shippers are expecting ample summer supplies.
“It’s a bit early to give a real accurate description of the size of the grape crop, but the industry should see a good size crop with good portion of it from new varieties,” said Alex Giumarra, account manager with Giumarra Vineyards in Bakersfield, Calif.
“If things trend as usual, there should be plenty of opportunities to promote grapes from late July through Thanksgiving.”
Things looked good at Bakersfield, Calif.-based Anthony Vineyards, said John Harley, vice president of marketing and sales.
“The 2020 crop looks really good and looks to be a normal crop — not late, like last year and not short, like last year,” he said.
Anthony expected to start its Coachella deal May 10, he said.
Stone fruit harvest may begin as much as a week earlier this year than last, suppliers say.
“Recently, hail hit some growing regions of the San Joaquin Valley, and some growers have experienced partial loss of crop due to the damage.
However, we are expecting similar volumes to 2019 overall,” said Jeannine Martin, director of sales for Giumarra Reedley. “Crop set for 2020 is looking normal.”
There should be ample volumes available throughout the season, said Jeff Simonian, sales manager at Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co.
“We feel like we have good crops on the early, mid- and late-season stone fruit varieties,” he said. “We had some hail this past week and it looks like we will have a little damage on some of our early season peaches.”
That was the only weather issue, he noted.
“We are really enjoying this late March and early April rain we have received; it’s allowing us to not turn on the pumps just quite yet,” he said.
Weather has been “perfect” for Kingsburg, Calif.-based apricot and plum grower-shipper Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., said David Stone, partner.
“For the most part, we’re getting to the part we’re starting to thin and sizing fruit,” he said April 10. “Weather was perfect for bloom. Trees set. Nice crop. We’re setting up to have a beautiful season.”
The peaches, nectarines and apricots look “very good,” while plums and plumcots “could be as much as 20-30% down,” said Chad Allred, vice president of sales and marketing for Kingsburg-based Kingsburg Orchards.
“That’s not always a negative; sometimes we get better-size fruit in smaller volumes,” Allred said.
Things looked positive for Fresno, Calif.-based Trinity Fruit Sales Co. Inc., said Levon Ganajian, retail relations director.
“This year, we’re going to have an ample-size crop — average to better than average,” he said. “Apricots are going to be way up. All in all, we look really good, looking like a nice-size crop. We had plenty of chill hours.”
Rivermaid Trading Co. will start packing red pears a few days after July Fourth and bartletts, around July 10, said Persky said.
Pears have faced challenges in recent years, Persky said.
“There are a lot of competing items that take shelf space, promotion efforts and focus away,” he said.