(May 10) Late and light.

When it comes to describing California’s apricot season, which should start the week of May 15, shippers disagree on how much volumes will be cut by the spring’s cold, rainy weather, but they agree the harvest will start later, with lighter production.

Some shippers said overall volumes will be down by 10%, while others put that much higher, at 30% to 50%. California produced 18,500 tons of apricots for the fresh market last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Overall production was 70,500 tons, harvested on 14,500 acres.

California apricots are usually on store shelves by late April, but it won’t be until mid-May before light volumes are available this season. Julian Lipschitz, sales manager at Fruit Patch Sales Co. Inc., Dinuba, Calif., said the company started the Kettleman City and Arvin harvests on April 25 last season.

The short crop is evident on the trees, Lipschitz said, with only 200-300 apricots developing on each tree in early May. During the bumper crop of 2004, trees produced almost 2,000 fruits, and in 2005, a more average crop, trees had 1,400 apricots per tree, he said. In addition to excess rain, hail and freeze damage hit the crop this year.

“Anything that could have happened, did happen,” he said.

Fruit Patch Sales picked a few apricots on May 10, and Lipschitz said the market was in the high $20s to low $30s for a two-layer tray. Poppy and earlicot are the early varieties.

Bob Maxwell, special projects manager for Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, Calif., said the company will see its apricot volumes drop by 15% at the most. Maxwell said some crop reduction reports are too high.

“There’s no doubt the crop is reduced, but it’s just a matter of how much,” Maxwell said. “You hear some wild estimates. Often, you’ll hear an estimate of 30-40%, but that will turn out to 10-15%, which is not the end of the world.”

While fruit count is down, Maxwell said apricot sizes will be up this season.

“With the reduced volumes anticipated from the new crop, and with Memorial Day coming up, people are excited about promoting apricots,” he said.

Kingsburg Orchards plans to have poppies on May 15, followed by diamonds, pattersons and britney golds, which finish the six-week season.

Gene Coughlin, tree fruit and citrus category manager for Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif., said the company focuses on a patented honeycot variety. Sun World’s production, which is in the Bakersfield area, could be cut 30% to 50%, with volumes of 10,000 to 15,000 trays, Coughlin said. Harvest will be about May 20 for Sun World.