(May 4) California apricot shippers say hot weather has slightly delayed harvest of the patterson variety but ample volumes should soon become available.

Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., Kingsburg, Calif., expects harvests on the pattersons to begin early the week of June 9 in the Kingsburg and Fresno areas, said David Stone, partner.

“The heat makes them sweet, and it’s 103 degrees out here,” he said June 3. “The patterson apricots are going to be the sweetest apricots of the year.”

Peak volumes should fall between June 20 and July 5, and production continues until around July 15, he said.

A lot of the peak production goes to Mexico, which likes smaller sizing, said Julian Lipschitz, tree fruit sales manager for Fruit Patch Sales Co., Dinuba, Calif.

Stone said sizing on the pattersons should peak on 7s and 8s.

In early June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the following f.o.b.s for two-layer tray packs of apricots from the San Joaquin Valley: 70-72s $14-16, 80-84s $10. The same time last year, 70-72s were at $14 and 80-84s were at $12, the USDA reported.

Stone said the USDA’s markets report reflected efforts to move varieties approaching the end of production.

Delays in establishing inspection protocols for exports to Mexico has hurt recent movement, shippers say. Lipschitz also cited the traditional holiday lull after Memorial Day.

But demand for fresh apricots could increase soon because of aggressive bidding for pattersons by the USDA said Tom Tjerandsen, manager of the California Fresh Apricot Council, San Francisco.

Stone said expectations for a gap between table grape production in Coachella and Arvin also could foster stronger markets for apricots and stone fruit.

Normally, California’s fresh apricot production hovers around 20,000 tons a year, Tjerandsen said. Last year, about 14,000 tons went to the fresh market, according to the council.

Tjerandsen said early varieties of apricots this season missed the opportunity to be exported to Mexico. Basically, the U.S. and Mexico have had a hard time agreeing on a protocol for inspection.

But now the industry is negotiating an agreement for a pre-clearance process that calls for trucks to be sealed at shipping point following inspection by Mexican authorities. Then, in principle, the trucks could head straight for the border, Tjerandsen said.

Initially, Mexican demands called for 100% of the “pre-cleared” trucks to be subject to reinspection at the border. As of early June, Mexico had reduced that requirement to one out of five trucks, Tjerandsen said.

Lipschitz said California’s apricot exports to Mexico usually begin around May 17. This year, it could be around June 17, he said. Stone said he expected the border to open June 9.

Tjerandsen said the USDA was bidding aggressively for patterson apricots for use in its food programs. As a result, a lot of field people from canneries are searching for supplies, which could take volumes off the fresh market.