(Aug. 7) California stone fruit growers say strong supplies, excellent quality and steady movement should characterize sales of peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots heading into late summer and fall.

Despite some difficulty in obtaining trucks this summer, fruit is moving, and warehouses are not having any problems with excess inventory, shippers report. The fruit is moving quickly to market, and buyers are happy with this season’s quality, said Eddie Hedstrom, managing partner in New Leaf Tree Fruit, Traver, Calif.

“The pipeline is clean right now,” Hedstrom said.

Hedstrom said the fruit has high sugar content, and consumers are buying the product.

“We should have an excellent late deal,” he said.

But grower-shippers expressed some disappointment with f.o.b. prices.

“Prices are low, but the product is moving as we head down the home stretch,” said Steve Ryan, head of grape and tree fruit sales for Ballantine Produce Co. Inc., Reedley, Calif.

THIS YEAR, LAST

As of Aug. 6, two-layer cartons of size 30 California yellow-flesh peaches sold for $15-16 f.o.b., according to the Federal-State Market News Service. Size 50 peaches sold for $10-12 f.o.b. on the same date.

Size 35 yellow-flesh nectarines sold for $12-16 f.o.b. for a two-layer tray pack Aug. 6.

On the same date, 28-pound cartons of size 50 red California plums sold for $18-19 f.o.b., with black varieties in the same size selling for $10-12 f.o.b. per carton.

This year’s Aug. 6 stone fruit prices generally were higher than on the same date last year.

On Aug. 6, 2001, two-layer cartons of size 30 yellow-flesh peaches sold for $12-14 f.o.b., and size 50 yellow-flesh peaches sold for $10-11 f.o.b. per two-layer carton. Size 35 yellow-flesh nectarines sold for $14-16 f.o.b. per two-layer tray pack on the same date.

Various varieties of plums sold for $8-10 f.o.b. for 28-pound cartons of size 50 plums Aug. 6, 2001. Production tends to slow some in late August and early September, but California growers say they will have plenty of quality, nicely colored peaches, nectarines and plums into early October.

A variety of sizes will be available, shippers said. Growers have developed good-tasting late peaches, nectarines and plums.

“Our company has a big late peach deal with high-color varieties,” Hedstrom said.

FALL VARIETIES

New Leaf Tree Fruit has a late peach called September sun that provides good peach flavor in the early fall, Hedstrom said. September red is a productive late-season nectarine harvested from late August through the end of September.

Other successful September varieties include sweet September, a yellow-flesh peach, and September snow, a white-fleshed peach produced by Kingsburg Apple Sales, Kingsburg, Calif.

Shippers also have lengthened the plum season with increased production of a high-sugar variety called angeleno. It is harvested over a fairly long period from late August to mid-October.

The California Tree Fruit Agreement, Reedley, estimates that California growers will ship 3 million 28-pound cartons of angeleno plums this season. That compares to 1.8 million angelenos in 1994 and just 1 million in 1990.

The angeleno plum is a friar type with purple skin and amber flesh.

Autumn royal is another good late-season plum, said John Hein, marketing director for Kingsburg Apple Sales. It is harvested in September, he said.

The pluot, a cross between an apricot and plum, also is making a greater splash in the late summer and fall. Although much of the pluot harvest is completed in August, the flavor fall variety ripens in late September.

The stone fruit industry expects good quality to continue into fall.

“Retailers report they are very pleased with the quality of fruits this year,” said Dale Janzen, field director for the California Tree Fruit Agreement.

Janzen said last year, stockpiled fruit supplies left little space in coolers. But movement has been good this year, leaving plenty of storage space in warehouses, he said.

“We had a limited amount of heat damage, but overall we have had ideal growing conditions,” Janzen said. Midsummer temperatures hovered around 94 degrees and that is ideal for stone fruit, he said.

STRONG VOLUME

With good growing weather and more late-season varieties of stone fruit trees in production, volume is expected to remain strong through September. The peach estimate for this season is 23.1 million cartons with nectarines coming in at 23.2 million cartons, according to the California Tree Fruit Agreement, Reedley. Plum production, which originally was forecast at 16.4 million cartons, has been adjusted down to 15.2 million cartons.

Pluots and apriums are not yet separated from plums in production estimates, but that could change in the future. “A task force will be meeting to talk about pluots and apriums,” Janzen said.

This season’s total stone fruit volume is set at about 61.5 million cartons.

The 2001 tree fruit volume was 50.7 million cartons, compared to 56 million cartons in 2000. The 2001 crop included 20 million cartons of peaches, 19.3 million cartons of nectarines and 11.4 million cartons of plums.

With such a large crop this season, truck movement is important. A truck shortage made transport more difficult in the early season, but since then more trucks have become available and the price of cross-country transport has dropped.

Rick Rattazzi, vice president of perishables for Johanson Transportation Service, Fresno, Calif., said demand for trucks declined in late July as markets softened.

However, the trucking business remains busy, Rattazzi said.

The price range for transporting stone fruit from the San Joaquin Valley to New York dropped from more than $5,500 early in the season to between $4,400 and $4,600 Aug. 5.