REEDLEY, Calif. — After three consecutive often-rocky seasons, the 2010 road traveled by most California peach, plum and nectarine grower-shippers continues to have more than its share of potholes.
Problems have not been categorywide, however.
“It’s been a fairly good year on nectarines and plums, especially plums,” said Gary Van Sickle, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement.
The culprit for peach grower-shippers was a national near glut of peaches, which softened prices.
“The peach crop in the Southeast was big with small sizes, which caused the pricing structure to collapse,” Van Sickle said. “We’d barely begun to ramp up volume when the prices dropped, and they have not fully recovered.”
An Aug. 9 U.S. Department of Agriculture report contained these prices for peaches from California’s central and southern San Joaquin Valley: cartons of various yellow flesh varieties, two-layer tray pack, size 30-32s were $11.10-13.10; 40-42s mostly $11.10; and 48-50s mostly $9.10-10.10.
Cartons of various white flesh varieties, two-layer tray pack, size 40-42s were $13.10-14.10; 48-50s mostly $12.10; 54-56s mostly $10.10.
Quality and size of all three fruits continues to be good to excellent, Van Sickle said. The outlook for the remainder of the season appears to be brighter for California growers, he said, as supply and demand become more balanced. That could mean increased f.o.b.s.
Picking of all of the California stone fruit started two weeks — or more — later than normal because of a cool, chilly spring. As a result, packouts through June were running well behind the 2009 deal. Packouts appeared to be catching up by early August.
As of Aug. 5, the year-to-date industrywide packout of peaches was 13.1 million cartons, about 700,000 behind the same date in 2009. Nectarines were closer: 10.4 million cartons on Aug. 5 as opposed to 10.7 million cartons a year ago.
Plums were the top performer, in part because of a poor showing last season. Plum packouts totaled 5.9 million cartons on Aug. 5, about 120,000 cartons more than the same date in 2009.
The late start to stone fruit picking means the industry will have promotable supplies of peaches, plums and nectarines well after the Labor Day weekend, grower-shippers said. Retailers will be able to stretch the season, they said.
Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, will continue to offer white flesh peaches and white flesh nectarines into October, said Bob Maxwell, salesman.
“We’ll have limited supplies of yellow flesh nectarines in September, but the white flesh varieties, arctic snow and arctic mist, look very good,” he said.
The company’s late-season yellow flesh peaches include sweet Septembers and autumn flames, Maxwell said.
“There will be great opportunities for retailers with fall plums and pluots,” he said. “We’ll continue to pick angelinos, September yummys and autumn reds through September.”
Flavor fall is one of the biggest pluot varieties for Kingsburg Orchards. Supplies will be available into early October, Maxwell said.
Plums will be a strong late season performer, too, for Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., Kingsburg, said Steve Nelsen, co-owner.
“Because of the late start, we think we’ll be picking angelinos into October,” he said.
Plums will be the featured fall stone fruit at Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc., Madera.
“We’ll have good supplies of excellent sugar plums at least through September,” said Chris Kragie, vice president.
Dayka & Hackett LLC plans to pick plums and peaches as late as mid-October, said partner Tim Dayka. The company will have only limited supplies of late season nectarines, he said.
Visalia Produce Sales Inc., Kingsburg, will have good fall supplies of all three commodities, said George Matoian, domestic grape sales manager.
“We’ll have good volume of angelino and black cat plums at least through September,” he said.
The company also will market white flesh and yellow flesh nectarines, which Matoian said “should be very good.”
“And we’ll have a good slug of august flame peaches through September,” he said.
Fruit Patch Sales Inc., Dinuba, anticipates its inventory of peaches, plums and nectarines will be shipping until mid-October, said Sheri Mierau, vice president of sales and marketing.
Domestic retailers may have to arm wrestle with their Mexican counterparts for fall stone fruit. The tree fruit agreement decided in early August to target Mexico, Van Sickle said.
“We are going to put extra marketing funding into Mexico, because it’s a good late market, especially for peaches,” he said.
Retailers who want an edge on competitors — domestic and elsewhere — would be wise to check the Tree Fruit Agreement’s website regularly, Van Sickle said.
“It is updated daily, and there are any number of downloads available to retailers,” he said.