REEDLEY, Calif. — The financial freeway on which California’s stone fruit commodities have traveled in recent years has been dotted with potholes for many grower-shippers. The state’s table grape grower-shippers have found an adjacent lane only slightly smoother.

In both cases, the end of the freeway found record volumes unloading at retailer distribution centers, paving the way for excellent buys for consumers. It appears prices are unchanged this season for shoppers wanting peaches, plums and nectarines.

The 2009 stone fruit deal may end up down as much as 25% from last season, said Sheri Mierau, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement. Tighter supplies, however, have not translated to higher prices for peaches, but that could change this fall.

“We really don’t have any major, major volumes coming out for the remainder of the season, so I’d hope prices would stabilize,” Mierau said.

The category’s two other crops, nectarines and plums, have faired somewhat better.

“Nectarines held their own all summer while plums were stable, but they have begun inching up,” Mierau said in late July.

The upward pressure on plum prices may be due to an unusual string of weather issues. Frost, hail, high winds and a very hot early July served to cut the plum volume in some cases as much as 40%, grower-shippers said.

The California table grape deal will once again approach 100 million cartons, according to the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission’s forecast. In years past, the table grape season was winding down by September.

The introduction of later producing varieties has lengthened the season through November and into December, said Cindy Plummer, the commission’s vice president of domestic marketing.

In fact, some grower-shippers such as Scattaglia Growers & Shippers LLC, Traver, and Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, have experimented with holding table grapes into late January. Sun World held grapes as late as Jan. 24 last season, said Rick Paul, table grape category manager.

“They held up beautifully, looked as if they’d been packed the day before,” he said.

The global recession has thrown a wrench into the spokes of what had been anticipated as a win-win season for grower-shippers, retailers and foodservice alike.

“Whatever the industry, we’re not living in the traditional realm of a recession,” Mierau said. “Things that have traditionally worked well for us in these types of periods are not necessarily working this year. Our entire economy has changed.”

The smaller crops are not helping matters for stone fruit exporters.

“Export volumes are down, particularly in Mexico,” said Gordon Smith, director of marketing for the tree fruit agreement. “The fruit is moving well. There’s just not enough available.”

That fewer white-flesh peaches and nectarines, favorites in Asian countries, are coming off the trees has created another marketing hurdle. The Taiwan deal is struggling, Smith said in late July.

Yet another hurdle on the domestic front was competition from the record cherry crop harvest in Washington. The cherries began flowing to retailers just as summer stone fruit varieties were hitting their peaks.

“I’ve never seen cherries have more shelf space than they did this year,” Mierau said.

The recession seems to have been less of a burden for table grape grower-shippers. Some said retailers are making a difference.

Sun World International anticipated the economy would make the season challenging, Paul said.

“But we’re pretty pleased with how things are going, and we appreciate the cooperation of the retailers,” he said in late July.

The 2009 season marks the first year members of the tree fruit agreement elected to abandon domestic marketing efforts and to concentrate on consumer and category research, trade education and industry resources.

Among the tools the tree fruit agreement staff has employed is an industry advocate Web site, which Mierau said has gone well.

“I think we can do a much better job,” she said. “We update it regularly, but the problem is the industry is not necessarily aware.”

On the drawing board are plans to automatically signal the industry via e-mail when the Web site is updated. Another tree fruit agreement staff project for the fall is to continue to evaluate and improve all category resources and tools that the staff makes available to the retail industry, Mierau said.

In place of marketing campaigns, the tree fruit agreement launched three consumer-targeted blogs,, and The blogs are becoming more popular with consumers, Mierau said. Specific plans for the fall are to post some classic stone fruit recipes for such items as pies, cobblers and jams, she said.

Another leg of the public outreach campaign includes posting video episodes produced on the tree fruit agreement’s PPN Network to You Tube and other popular Web sites, Mierau said.