A large number of pomegranates are cracking in California fields and it’s having a significant effect on volumes and fruit size, grower-shippers said.

Cracking, or splitting, of fruit occurred at the beginning of the Wonderful variety deal this year in California, which is rare, said Jeff Simonian, sales manager of Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co.

Typically, pomegranates don’t crack until late in the deal, he said.

Simonian Fruit will likely ship up to 30% fewer pomegranates than last season, and instead of shipping into March, the company’s deal will likely wind down in December, Simonian said.

“It’s been a difficult year,” he said. “We’ve also been fighting color.”

The eating quality of this year’s Wonderfuls, however, has been excellent, Simonian said.

The size profile of this year’s California crop also has been an issue, with very few 20s and larger left for non-contract sale as of mid-November, said Julian Lipschitz, a consultant in the Reedley, Calif., office of D.J. Forry Co. Inc., Novato, Calif.

“There’s almost no large fruit available” for the open market, Lipschitz said Nov. 17.

Forry’s 2011-12 pomegranate crop will likely end up being one-third smaller than the company’s pre-season estimate, Lipschitz said.

Chile could boost its pomegranate exports to help fill the gap, but Chilean product typically doesn’t arrive in the U.S. until April, Lipschitz said. Argentinian pomegranates, arriving as early as February, could help bridge the California and Chilean deals, Simonian said.

Most growers finished picking California pomegranates the week of Nov. 14, Lipschitz said.