(May 2) PARLIER, Calif. — California’s stone fruit industry is expected to see a 6.5% increase in production this year, shipping an estimated 50.5 million cartons of peaches, nectarines and plums.

The California Tree Fruit Agreement revealed the 2007 crop forecast at its spring meeting May 1. The forecast signaled good supplies through summer and into the fall for retailers.

Gary Van Sickle, director of research and regulatory compliance for the California Tree Fruit Agreement, said the forecast for peaches, plums and nectarines was 50.5 million cartons, 6.5% increase over last year’s 47.5 million cartons.

Van Sickle said harvesting of early varieties of peaches began April 23 with the first nectarines picked on April 26. The first plums were expected to be harvested beginning May 15, he said. The harvest start dates average a week earlier than last year.

Van Sickle said the forecast for peaches was 20.1 million cartons. Nectarine volume was expected to be 19 million cartons, he said, while plums were forecast at 11.4 million cartons.

The peach forecast is 4.5% greater than the 2006 volume. The increase for nectarines was 11.2%. But the plum volume was forecast to be only slightly larger, 1.6%, than last year.

Sheri Mierau, president of the Tree Fruit League, said the forecast and other issues are positives for the industry. But she said the increase in California’s minimum wage and higher energy costs would add one dollar — or more — per carton to production costs.