All Chilean stone fruit varieties except cherries may dip in production in the upcoming 2009-10 marketing season.

A late-August report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service shows Chilean output of apricots, plums and peaches is expected to come in below the 2008-09 season.

The decline in production is tied to the alternate-bearing nature of tree fruit, combined with weather predictions that call for unusual amounts of rain during the spring stemming from El Nino, a recurring climatic pattern due to return this season.

Acreage for all stone varieties except cherries should fall this year, according to the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture. The revaluation of the Chilean peso against the dollar and increasing production costs prompted growers to uproot tree fruit orchards.

Although cherry acreage has been increasing the past few years, industry sources expect that acreage too will plateau soon.

Outlook by commodity

Only about 10% of the Chilean apricot crop is shipped fresh, and nearly all of that by airplane.

Some grower-shippers have been switching to varieties with a longer shelf life.

Acreage of apricots is expected to fall about 6% to 4,188 producing acres this year.

Meanwhile, the USDA said plum production is also in reverse because of poor returns from low producing orchards. The report said more than 35 plum varieties are planted in the country and the harvest season spans more than six months. The decline in bearing acreage for plums for 2009-10 is estimated at 3% to 16,488 acres.

Peach and nectarine acreage has been fairly stable, according to the report, with growers replacing older varieties. Peach acreage has taken the brunt of acreage reductions, the USDA report said. About 40% of the total Chilean crop is marketed as fresh, and the biggest export market for Chilean peaches and nectarines is the U.S., taking 60% of Chile’s total exports. Combined acreage of peaches and nectarines is forecast by the USDA at 27,330 acres, off 11% from a year ago.

The sole exception to the acreage trend is found with cherries, the FAS said. Cherry acreage has expanded in southern Chilean growing regions, and about one-third of acreage is too young to produce commercially. Production increases for cherries are predicted for the next five years.

The USDA predicts a 5% growth in cherry production, but wet weather linked to El Nino could make for a disastrous harvest period.

Chilean cherry harvested acreage in 2009-10 is estimated at 24,211 acres, up 3% compared with year-ago levels.