(July 5) High-quality stone fruit should help Washington State grower-shippers capitalize on the weather woes of their neighbors down the coast.

“Unlike California, we had really good weather,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash. “I think we’ll have a great deal this year.”

Stemilt’s peach, nectarine and apricot crops benefited from a good bloom, good sets, an absence of hail and, later in the growing season, plenty of hot weather, Pepperl said. In addition, little wind meant clean fruit, he added.

Mix in a production boost, and it adds up to the company’s biggest peach and nectarine crops ever, Pepperl said. Stemilt shipped just under 1 million boxes of the two fruits in 2005. This year’s total could hit 1.3 million.

Statewide, peach volumes are expected to be about 13,000 tons, down from last year’s 13,300 tons, said David Severn, promotion director for the Washington State Fruit Commission, Yakima.

An estimated 9,000 tons of nectarines are expected to ship this year from the Evergreen State, down from 9,400 last year, Severn said.

The peach and nectarine deals for most growers should be under way by late July and run through late September or early October, he added.

Stemilt’s peach and nectarine deal should begin about July 14, with volume by the third week in July, Pepperl said. A cool spell in the spring delayed the crop’s bloom, pushing harvest back about a week, he said.

With excellent quality projected for Washington stone fruit and quality question marks surrounding the California deal, Pepperl said he anticipates strong markets for Evergreen State growers.

Not only did California get socked with too much rain in the spring, Pepperl said. Stone fruit trees in the Golden State also didn’t get enough chill hours last winter. That combination makes it hard for trees to produce quality fruit, he said.

Stemilt’s apricot deal will be about 40% smaller than last year’s, Pepperl said, because pollenization problems in the spring prevented the crop from setting well. The fruit that is getting harvested, however, is of excellent quality, he said.

Some Washington growers began harvesting apricots in mid-June, Severn said. An estimated 4,500 tons will ship this year, down from 4,600 last year, he said.

Stemilt’s apricot deal began at the end of June and will run for three to five weeks, Pepperl said, adding that he expected steady markets.

Severn said markets at the beginning of the deal were strong, with retailers appreciating Washington growers’ commitment to letting fruit ripen on trees as long as possible.