California’s dry winter had many growers predicting early and ample supplies of summer fruit — until late-March rains came along, clouding the picture on some commodities.
As spring arrived, weather forced strawberry growers to downplay Easter expectations. But they expected strong supplies for Mother’s Day on May 13.
“We’re harvesting in all California districts, just not very much after two rainy weekends,” Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms. “Mother’s Day is the next big pull, and we’ll definitely have promotable volume.”
California strawberries — which account for 88% of U.S. production — grow year-round but peak from March to August. Acreage is up 2.8% in 2012 after a couple of flat years, with 1,036 more in production.
“We were surprised it made such a big jump this year,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission. “Either the land became available or people had second-year crop.”
Acreage wasn’t the only indicator of increased volume.
“The trend in varieties is growing for yields,” Jewell said. “Even though it might go up only a thousand acres, the yield will be higher.”
Stronger yielding varieties, in fact, could allow the state its first 100 million-box table grape crop.
On blueberries, California Giant expects about a 50% increase in its volume over last year.
“We’re still in a growing trend and expanding,” Jewell said. “We estimate our total blueberry program this year is 15 million to 20 million pounds.”
The state’s blueberries start in late April in Arvin, ahead of Delano and Kingsburg. They’re also grown on the coast.
Melon grower Dan Andrews, owner of Bakersfield-based Dan Andrews Farms, remained optimistic despite an inch of rain from one storm and a forecast that raised the prospect of some replanting.
“Last year it rained and rained, and everyone was two weeks behind schedule,” he said. “These intermittent rains will cause slight delays, nothing significant. It’s going to take a little longer to get melons out of the ground.
“We’re stuck. You’ve got to plant now, and let the weather do what it’s going to do.”
The Bakersfield deal is expected to start in mid-June on watermelons and honeydews, with cantaloupes arriving by July 1.
Fig grower-shipper Maury DeBenedetto, partner in Fresno-based DeBenedetto Fruit Co. LLC, said a quick start won’t surprise him.
“Last year we began about June 7,” he said. “People are thinking we’re much earlier than that this year, but it’s hard to tell.”
Apple growers in the Golden State have a hard act to follow — 2011 was their best season in years as the gap between Chilean imports and early Washington product arrived right on schedule.
That summer gap is the California industry’s reason to exist, even if it’s beyond control. In any case, apple growers also expected fruit to arrive a little early, said Alex Ott, executive director of the California Apple Commission, Fresno.
Galas start in late July and run through mid-September. Granny smiths follow in August, with fujis in September and cripps pink in October. There’s some overlap between the varieties.
In spring the state’s citrus industry was still feeling effects from January freezes. Volume and fruit size remained smaller on navel oranges, but California Citrus Mutual anticipates the deal will go through June. In the same month, domestic valencia shipments will ramp up as navels fade. Valencias have been in the export market since March.
Prospects for California’s stone fruit this summer look promising as decent quality fruit should hit the pipeline a week or so earlier than last year, although some grower-shippers say they’re planning to ship less of it this year.