PARLIER, Calif. — After back-to-back years of bumper stone fruit crops, California grower-shippers are expected to produce fewer than 50 million cartons of peaches, nectarines and plums in 2009.

The stone fruit forecast, released April 30 by the California Tree Fruit Agreement, Reedley, Calif., is for 49.5 million cartons, said Gary Van Sickle, the group’s director of research and regulatory compliance. The forecast is 16% smaller than the 58.9-million-carton deal of last year, the second-highest volume in the tree fruit agreement’s history.

The 2009 forecast is more in line with the volume of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons, said Sheri Mierau, the organization’s president. The normal production estimate comes on the heels of pull-outs that have escalated in recent years. Growers pulled more than 590,000 peach and nectarine trees in the last year. The 2009 pullouts are 54% higher than the industry’s rolling five-year average, Mierau said.

The remaining acreage will still produce plenty of good quality, promotable fruit.

“The crop got a good fruit set,” Mierau said. “There was some frost damage, but it may serve to be more of a thinning tool.”

The smaller deal was not unexpected at Fruit Patch Sales Co., Dinuba, Calif.

“After those two huge years in 2007 and 2008, the trees had to take a little rest,” said Rick Eastes, vice president of sales and marketing at Fruit Patch.

California stone fruit volume to fall from near record 2008 deal
                            Don Schrack

Gary Van Sickle, director of research and regulatory compliance for the California Tree Fruit Agreement, Reedley, Calif., said the organization’s stone fruit forecast for 2009 is 49.5 million cartons, a drop of 16% from last year’s near record deal.

Peach volume, yellow-flesh and white-flesh combined, is forecast at 21.4 million cartons, a 10% drop from 2008, while yellow-flesh and white-flesh nectarine volume is expected to be 13% smaller at 19.2 million cartons, Van Sickle said.

Plums are expected to have the greatest decline, a 27%-drop from last year. The volume is forecast at 8.9 million cartons, down from 12.2 million cartons, Van Sickle said.

“This year’s forecast is the lowest in 20 years, except for the hail-damaged crop of 1995,” he said.

Despite the small crop, there will not be tight plum supplies throughout the season, Mierau said. The periods most likely to be affected, she said, are early June, late June-early July and mid-August.

The export market for California stone fruit is somewhat uncertain due to the spread of swine flu and the slim potential for border closings, said Gordon Smith, director of marketing for the California Tree Fruit Agreement.

“Food does not carry the flu virus, and that’s a point we must drive home at every opportunity,” he said.

One bright note for exports is that the demand for Chilean plums continues strong in Asia, Smith said. That is usually a good sign for California plums, he said. Strong foreign demand could increase domestic prices of the limited plum crop.

Yet another positive for California exporters is that Asian stone fruit growers are expecting lower volume due to cooler than usual weather.

The global economy is another cause for concern.

“The uncertainty of the exchange rate will definitely play a role in 2009,” Smith said.