(Nov. 30) Demand for California gold kiwifruit, which began shipping in early November and should be available through mid-January, is strong, grower-shippers said.

This is the third year gold kiwifruit has been grown in California. Zespri International, Tauranga, N.Z., grew 388 acres in the Visalia and Bakersfield regions this year, said Tony Motion, Australasian market manager. Zespri Gold-branded kiwifruit is marketed in North America by The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, B.C.

Motion reported a smooth transition from the New Zealand gold season into the California season.

“The market is very strong right now,” Motion said. “Retailers have been eager to keep up the momentum built during the Zespri Gold New Zealand kiwifruit season.”

On Nov. 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $15-16 for 19.8-pound containers of hayward 27s from California, up from $11-12 last year at the same time.

Alex Ott, president of the Fresno-based California Apple Commission, which now oversees the California Kiwifruit Commission, said the taste, quality and size of the 2006 crop were excellent. While an official crop estimate wasn’t expected until the first week of December, Ott expects between 200,000 and 300,000 trays of California golds this year.

That’s less than was earlier projected, thanks to a heat wave that battered a variety of California crops during the summer, Ott said.

“The weather definitely had an impact across the board, including kiwis,” he said.

The entire California kiwifruit crop is now estimated at 5.8 million trays, down from an earlier estimate of 6.5 million trays. The gold crop will likely be proportionally smaller, Ott predicted.