California’s fig grower-shippers may have to grapple with the aftermath of a frost, adapt to water shortages and contend with an economic downturn this year, but still, they are looking forward to a good season.

Stellar Distributing, Fresno, Calif., expected to start its black mission fig deal out of Brawley, Calif., as early as May 5, thanks to its desert ranch, Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager, said in mid-April.

The company will offer early sierra green figs and the brown turkey variety around June 1, out of Brawley. The firm will launch its Central Valley black mission deal June 5.

The fresh fig deal used to wind down around Nov. 1, Cappelluti said, but now, thanks to its desert deal, the company can ship into January. The past two years, the firm shipped fresh figs until Jan. 15.

This year’s crop benefited from generally favorable growing conditions.

“Everything looks really good so far,” Cappelluti said in April.

The company sources from 240 acres of its own fresh figs, and Cappelluti also works with other growers, representing a total of 4,000 acres. The company also has 100 acres of organic fresh figs.

K&W Farms Inc. in Palm Desert, Calif., also offers fresh figs into the winter, said owner Alan Weeks.

The company, which produces only the brown turkey variety, starts its season with its early breva crop, which runs from mid-May to the end of the month and will consist of 1,000 flats at most, Weeks said.

Northern growers call that crop their first crop, he said.

K&W Farms’ main crop runs from June 10 into August, when figs start shipping out of the northern district and prices begin to drop, Weeks said.

The company comes back in early October, cleans out the old fruit, gives the trees a shot of fertilizer and starts producing again from mid-October until the end of the year or first freeze.
The northern district usually winds down by mid- to late November, he said.

Weeks could not say for sure in April what the quality of this year’s crop will be, but he said he expects higher volume from his company because 40 acres of fruit damaged by storms last year will be back in production.

In Fresno, Calif., DeBenedetto Fruit Co. LLC expects to start shipping black mission figs in late May or early June from the same acreage as last year, said co-owner Maury DeBenedetto.

The company’s second season starts around mid-July with black missions, kadotas and calimyrnas.

Although growing conditions in the area generally were good, DeBenedetto said the crop could use some more rain, and he said a brief frost in March did not cause much damage.

Some growers in the Madera/Chowchilla area lost quite a bit of their first black mission crop, said George Kragie, president of Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc., Madera, Calif.

“But I don’t anticipate it to be a big deal at this point,” he said in early April. “Our biggest issue has been water.”

His allocations have been cut from 35% of normal last year to 20% this year. He also is able to use water banked from last year, so he is optimistic that he will have enough water to squeak by this year.

Buying additional water can be costly, he said – $400 per acre-foot.

DeBenedetto Fruit Co. took in decent prices on fresh figs last year, DeBenedetto said. However, when the price of dried product rises, growers sometimes have to decide whether they want to aim for the fresh market or dried market.

Fresh figs have higher profit margins, but they are riskier to grow than dried figs, he said.

Kragie said he is concerned about the effect the economy might have on sales, since figs are an impulse item.

He doesn’t expect the extreme highs he used to see on early- or late-season prices, he said, but he was hopeful that the dried category will help keep prices up.

Weeks said he, too, is concerned about sales during the down economy because figs are “a real specialty crop and expensive.”