(UPDATED COVERAGE, April 30) Parlier, Calif. — The
California stone fruit industry is facing another challenging season.

The Reedley-based California Tree Fruit Agreement released a forecast April 29 that puts the state’s volume of peaches, plums and nectarines at 46.8 million cartons, a very slight increase over the 2009 deal.

What grower-shippers had anticipated would be a greater than 50-million-carton year was undermined by unusually cold, wet and windy April weather, said Gary Van Sickle, president of the Tree Fruit Agreement.

“It was the hail and the wind scarring that forced us to reduce the forecast,” he said.

Hail damage is still being evaluated, but some regions of the San Joaquin Valley are not expected to deliver a clean crop, Van Sickle said.

Weather trims California stone fruit deal

Through June, harvesting of early varieties is expected to start at least two days later than last year. In July, picking starts are anticipated to be at least four days behind 2009, Van Sickle said.

Plums could be in short supply periodically for the second consecutive season. The agreement’s forecast calls for 8.7 million cartons of plums, down more than 7% from 2009 volume and down 32.5% from the 2008 plum deal of 12.9 million cartons.

The 2010 production of yellow flesh nectarines is expected to be 12.2 million cartons, down nearly half a million cartons from 2009. White flesh nectarine production, however, is forecast to increase by about 250,000 cartons to 4 million cartons.  Those figures pale when compared with 2008 overall nectarine volume that hit 22.3 million cartons.

Peaches are the only stone fruit commodity projected to exceed 2009 volume. Overall peach production is put at 21.9 million cartons, an increase of nearly 900,000 cartons over 2009. White flesh peaches represent the lion’s share of the increase. The white flesh forecast is 5.6 million cartons, up nearly 700,000 cartons over 2009.

The small stone fruit volume — down from California’s nearly 60 million carton crop of 2008 — could strengthen prices. However, stone fruit crops in other states may affect those prices.

The Tree Fruit Agreement’s statistics indicate domestic peach volume will be up more than 13% over 2009. Southeastern peaches are expected to bounce back from last year’s frost and hail, but picking is scheduled to begin about one week later than usual, Van Sickle said. Production in northern states could begin shipping earlier than usual, he said.

“The resulting overlapping crops could hit markets in early July, which has historically been a time period when shipments decline for up to seven days,” Van Sickle said.