(May 10) Rain and low temperatures that plagued California this winter and early spring had dissipated by the second week of May, but much of the state’s fig crop was expected to feel the effect of adverse weather in the form of a later start date.

The harvest in Northern California might be two weeks late this season, said Richard Matoian, manager of the California Fig Board Advisory Board, Fresno.

Once the rain stopped, hot weather followed almost immediately with temperatures running eight to 10 degrees above average the week of May 8.

“We went quickly from winter to summer with little or no spring,” Matoian said.

The good news is the quality of the figs was expected to be good this season.

“(Bad weather) doesn’t hurt the crop, it just delays the growth,” said Richard DeBenedetto, owner of J&R Orchards, Chowchilla, Calif.

Madera County growers expect to start harvesting their first crop of black mission figs in mid-June, about 10 days later than usual. The delay could help create pent up demand and keep first-season prices strong, DeBenedetto said.

Prices for the early crop have stayed firm because of relatively tight supplies coupled with reductions in acreage. Fig prices were expected to open at $15-20 for a carton of a dozen 1-pint containers.

After the second crop starts harvesting, additional varieties come on and the season reaches its peak in August and September, prices could drop to the $9-10 range, DeBenedetto said.

Almost 2,000 acres were pulled out of production from 2005 to 2006, Matoian estimated, but he said much of that acreage was for dried figs rather than fresh. In all, the state has about 10,000 acres of figs.

Although no one keeps track of fresh fig volume, Kevin Herman, owner of The Specialty Crop Co., Madera, Calif., and chairman of the advisory board’s California Fresh Fig Growers Association, estimated that 20% of the state’s figs are for fresh market. That number continues to grow, he said, while volume of dried figs remains pretty static.