REEDLEY, Calif. — After back-to-back years of stone fruit volume approaching 60 million cartons and bargain basement f.o.b.s, a forecast of 16% fewer cartons in 2009 had California grower-shippers anticipating higher prices.

For the most part, they are still waiting.

The cost of growing, harvesting and packing a carton of peaches is about $13, grower-shippers said. For most of the season, f.o.b.s for San Joaquin Valley peaches have hovered in the $10-12 range.

“It’s been said if we have a 40 million to 45 million box crop, it’s a slam dunk,” said Sheri Mierau, president of the  California Tree Fruit Agreement. “Well, we’re there, and it’s not a slam dunk.”

Those prices are not due to overproduction. The tree fruit agreement’s preseason forecast for all stone fruit was 49.5 million cartons, down from the 58.9 million carton bumper crop of 2008. As the season has progressed, the forecast has been modified downward to 46.9 million cartons, and the industry may not achieve that volume.

Peaches, both white-flesh and yellow-flesh varieties, are now expected to produce 20.5 million cartons, down 13.8% from last year’s volume of 23.8 million cartons.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Aug. 10 reported prices of $11.10-12.10 for yellow-flesh 34-36s, 40-42s $12.10, and 48-50s $10.10-11.10.

By comparison, year-ago prices for California peaches found cartons of yellow-flesh varieties 34-36s at $9-11, with 40-42s fetching $9-10 and 48-50s at $8-9.

Some white-flesh varieties were slightly higher: Cartons of 35-36s went for $10-12, while prices for 40-42s were $9-10 and 48-50s were fetching $8-9.

Despite the smaller volume, late season varieties of peaches will provide plenty of opportunity for retail promotions, grower-shippers said, and taste and quality are excellent.

Brandt Farms will be shipping peaches into October, said Wayne Brandt, president. The fall peaches should be representative of all of the company’s 2009 stone fruit crops, he said.

“We’ve had nothing but compliments this year on the flavor and eating quality of our fruit,” Brandt said.

Last chance and autumn flames are the varieties available in September and into October from the Kingsburg packing operation of The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, said Marc Serpa, West Coast grape and stone fruit category manager.

For Gerawan Farming, Sanger, the late season peach spotlight falls on the company’s proprietary Gattie peach. Harvesting of the Gattie peaches should start in late August, said George Papangellin, sales manager. Supplies of the Gatties, packed under the company’s Prima label, will be available into November, he said.

The premium fall peaches, both white-flesh and yellow-flesh, from Trinity Fruit Sales Co., Fresno, will be shipped in cartons carrying FlavorZone stickers, said John Hein, salesman.

California peach industry seeks stronger pricing

While the company’s preconditioned Ripeway line continues, fruit with the FlavorZone labels represents third party auditing of more than a dozen parameters designed to determine the very best-tasting fruit, Hein said.

Trinity will be shipping peaches into October, he said.

A sizeable chunk of the fall peach volume at Scattaglia Growers & Shippers LLC, Traver, will come not from the San Joaquin Valley, but from Scattaglia Farms, Littlerock, said Dave Parker, director of marketing. The Littlerock acreage is in high desert elevations northeast of Los Angeles, he said, and the varieties grow at different elevations so each variety’s season lasts longer.

“As a rule of thumb, a variety’s season will start about a week after that variety’s season has ended in the San Joaquin Valley,” Parker said. “A typical variety in the valley may take three weeks from beginning to end, but because the variety is planted at different elevations, the Littlerock harvest often runs four weeks to five weeks.”

Summer ladies and o’henrys were scheduled to start in mid-August with August ladies following late in the month, Parker said.

A September shipping start is scheduled for September suns and sweet Septembers, he said, while the company’s 2009 peach season will finish with September flames and autumn flames in October.

This is a down year for late season peaches at Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner. The company will have limited supplies of peaches this fall, he said.

“That could change for next year as things are evolving in the stone fruit world,” Torosian said.
“I think we’ll be back in the middle of things.”

At Fowler-based Simonian Fruit Co., the fall focus is on autumn flames, said Jeannine Martin, sales manager. The variety has attracted consumer loyalty because of its high sugar content, she said.

Simonian Fruit’s harvest of autumn flames should begin in mid-September. The company will be shipping well into October, Martin said.

The autumn flames also are the final peach variety of the year at Sunwest Fruit Co Inc., Parlier. The company will have supplies into early October, said Doug Sankey, vice president of marketing.

Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, will be shipping both white-flesh and yellow-flesh fall peaches, said Dan Spain, vice president of sales and marketing. The white-flesh varieties are snow magic and full moon, while the yellow-flesh peach is sweet September. Picking of all three varieties should begin the final week of August, Spain said.

“We’ll have good supplies of those varieties into October,” he said.

Members of the Reedley-based Summeripe Worldwide Inc. also will be shipping fall varieties of yellow-flesh and white-flesh peaches, said Mike Garrison, sales manager.

“We’ll have supplies of white-flesh peaches through September, and our yellow-flesh varieties should go into November,” he said.

Those peaches will ship in cartons with updated graphics.

“The old Summeripe cartons had been around for about 12 years,” Garrison said.

Also new for Summeripe this season is the company’s valley headquarters. It has moved from Dinuba to new offices near Reedley.