(April 30, 10:24 a.m.) PARLIER, Calif. — Despite reports of weather damage to Washington, South Carolina and Georgia stone fruit crops, California grower-shippers will be able to fill all the gaps, according to the California Tree Fruit Agreement.

“The winter and spring weather was optimal for stone fruit trees in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Sheri Mierau, president of the Reedley-based group.

At a packed 2008 spring meeting April 29, Mierau said the state’s projected volume of peaches, plums and nectarines is slightly larger than 2007’s large deal.

“We’re forecasting the volume of the three crops will be 56.6 million cartons,” Mierau said.

That total is 1.1 million cartons above the 2007 actual of 55.1 million cartons. The forecast is for 23.8 million cartons of peaches, 21.3 million cartons of nectarines and 11.5 million cartons of plums.

The bulk of the season’s increase is in plums, Mierau said, at 800,000 cartons greater than last year’s volume. Each of the peach and nectarine forecasts is 200,000 cartons over 2007, she said.

Mierau cautioned grower-shippers that sharply higher costs for wages and fuel will challenge the industry. It is highly unlikely that prices will exceed parity in 2008, she said.

To offset some of the higher costs of production, the agreement’s staff recommends reducing the per-carton assessment for plums from 13.5 cents to 12.5 cents and a reduction in the California Tree Fruit Marketing Board assessment from 7.5 cents to 6.5 cents. Both recommendations passed committees without objection.

“Last year was a difficult time for some of our grower-shippers, and we’re committed to keeping the 2008 budget to a minimum,” Mierau said.

White-flesh peaches are forecast to be 24% of the 2008 overall California peach volume, down from 30% last year. The drop is smaller for white-flesh nectarines, down from 25.5% of the 2007 deal to 23.5% this season, Mierau said.

A significant number of white-flesh peach and nectarine orchards were pulled out, said Gary Van Sickle, the group’s director of research and regulatory compliance.

There are indications retailers plan to promote California stone fruit strongly this season. From Nov. 1, 2007, to April 29, 65 chains requested point-of-sale materials, Mierau said. During the same period last season, 44 chains had sought the materials.

The tree fruit agreement is bolstering its support of retailers via the Cal State PPN pages of the agreement’s Web site, www.eatcaliforniafruit.com.

The Web site has launched PPN News for Retailers, said Joanna Frith domestic market manager. PPN News for Retailers will be updated weekly, Frith said. New education and seasonal time-line posters also are downloadable from the Web site.