(Feb. 22) California kiwifruit shippers, who last fall harvested the largest crop volume since 1982, will be promoting the fruit well into May — almost two months longer than last season.

The crop is expected to be half again the size of last season.

Production this year is estimated at 9.5 million tray equivalents, said Lindy LaFrancis, president of the California Kiwifruit Commission, El Dorado Hills. Last year’s total crop was 6.2 million tray equivalents, she said.

Supplies at the end of January were at about 4.6 million tray equivalents, while last year’s end-of-January supplies were around 850,000 tray equivalents, LaFrancis said.

The increase in production came partially because the largest crop increases were in sizes 36s and larger, and volume is measured by weight, said John Fagundes, partner in Cal Harvest Marketing Inc., Hanford, and chairman of the kiwifruit commission.

The company saw a 50% increase in production of California kiwifruit, but about 30% of that came because of increases in those larger sizes, Fagundes said.

The other 20% of the increased volume came from a rise in the number of fruits, he said.

“This was really unique,” he said. “You tend to have smaller sizes when you have a large crop. In fact, this was the largest sized fruit we’ve had in our history.”

PRICES

F.o.b.s on Californian kiwifruit in 19.8-pound loose containers were $8-9 for 27-45s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Feb. 14 shipping trends report.

Though the USDA stopped reporting on kiwifruit f.o.b.s in late January last year, those prices for 19.8-pound containers of loose fruit were $14-16 for 27-33s, $13.00-14 for 36s, $12for 39s, $10-11 for 42s and $7-8 for 45s, according to a Jan. 24, 2005 report.

The near-record volume is due mainly to perfect weather conditions, said Steve Woodyear-Smith, kiwifruit category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.

This season’s fruit also eats very well and stores well, he added.

“It’s been one of the more consistent eating crops in a while,” Woodyear-Smith said.

“Out of the last six years, four or five of those years we’ve had weather-related difficulties,” LaFrancis said.

Growers are reporting some of the best crops they’ve seen in terms of volume and size, she added.

Because the state’s kiwifruit harvest lasts from late September through October, about half of its kiwifruit is in controlled-atmosphere storage and half is packed for shipment after harvest, Fagundes said.

BIGGER THAN NORMAL

Consumers aren’t used to the large size of kiwis they’ll be seeing this year in retail produce departments, LaFrancis said.

The larger than usual volume means the California kiwifruit season will be extended through May, she added.

This year is actually a return to the traditional California kiwifruit season.

Selling crops into May was very common up until about three years ago, when California produced shorter crops and supplies were cleaned up by March or April, LaFrancis said.

To handle this extra volume, the commission is prepared to help retailers run promotions to help sell kiwifruit, LaFrancis said.

“Our budget is pretty limited, but we have more promotional ideas for retailers,” she said.