( Courtesy DJ Forry Co. Inc. )

California’s pomegranate crop is expected to be down again this year, but growers say ample promotable volume should be available.

There was an “inopportune freeze” early this year, said Tom Tjerandson, manager of the Sonoma, Calif.-based Pomegranate Council.

“The overall volume probably is going to be off about 15%,” he said.

But he added that there still will be “a pretty significant harvest.”

The state’s growers usually produce about 6 million 25-pound-box equivalents, he said.

This year, that total likely will range from 5 million to 5.5 million boxes.

Adam Cooper, vice president of marketing for Los Angeles-based The Wonderful Co., said the company should have plenty of pomegranates to support its retailer programs.

He expects a successful season despite tighter supplies and higher input costs for labor, transportation and water.

“We think there is still going to be stronger demand, even at a higher price,” he said.

“The most important news is that the interior of the fruit is looking very good,” Cooper said.

We think there is still going to be stronger demand, even at a higher price.

Crown Jewels Produce Co. LLC, Fresno, Calif., started its pomegranate harvest the second week of September, said salesman Jeff Kramm.

“The color on the early foothills (variety) has been good,” he said Sept. 5.

He expected harvest of the wonderful variety to start Oct. 5-10 for Crown Jewels, a week to 10 days later than last year.

The early deal for Trinity Fruit Sales Co. Inc., Fresno, will be “way, way up” this season, said Levon Ganajian, director of retail relations.

But he said volume of wonderfuls likely will be less than anticipated.

Ganajian was concerned about the effect higher prices might have on the market.

“I expect prices will be higher than last year,” he said.

If growers overprice their fruit, sales might stall, he said.

“As long as the marketers are smart about it and don’t go to too crazy, we will able to move the crop,” Ganajian said.

“We have to find a happy medium.”

Supplies have gotten tighter over the past three years because some growers have been bulldozing trees, said Ray England, vice president of marketing for DJ Forry Co. Inc., Pismo Beach, Calif.

“We’re seeing, generally speaking, fewer cartons of pomegranates in the marketplace,” he said.

He attributed the cutbacks to an oversupply that started around 2000 when retailers began building massive displays and growers added trees to meet a growing demand for juice.

But that demand started to wane, he said.

We’re seeing, generally speaking, fewer cartons of pomegranates in the marketplace.

“There are fewer cartons because the returns, whether for juice, arils or fresh market, get tougher and tougher each year with increased costs.”

He estimated that costs are up 35% compared to five years ago.

But sales manager Jeff Simonian said Simonian Fruit Co., Fowler, Calif., plans to maintain the same prices as last year.

“We’re not going to try to push things up,” Simonian said.

Pomegranates already are an expensive item, he said.

The company expected to start harvesting around the third week of September and should have pomegranates until January or December.

Sizing, color and overall quality should be good, he said Sept. 5.

Although the U.S. ranks third in pomegranate production, the top two producers — China and India — sell most of their fruit domestically, leaving much of the export market to the U.S., Tjerandson said.

The U.S. exports 30% to 40% of its crop to places like Canada, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and to the rapidly growing New Zealand market, he said.

Every country has limits to what can and can’t come in, DJ Forry’s England said.

Securing phytosanitary clearances can be a challenge.

“It’s always a battle,” he said. “It seems to be more of a battle each year.”

DJ Forry exports 15% to 30% each year and is “off to a good start this year,” England said.