California stone fruit growers anticipate positive season

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California stone fruit growers anticipate positive season

The California stone fruit season kicked off with available apricots, nectarines, and peaches. Companies in the state reported that their season began in early May. 

Organically Grown Co. (OGC) said they expect stronger volumes of peaches will arrive by mid-May.

OGC buyer, Brian Keogh said stone fruit out of California is looking "fantastic."

"Cool nights are leading to excellent color, as well as good sugar-to-acid ratios, which is why we expect a sweet and juicy season," said Keogh. 

Overall, growers report the weather has been very good this season, which allowed the harvest to start about a week earlier. 

Most California stone fruit is in season between May and mid-September, with plums going a bit longer until October. 

Water availability

Drought conditions in California have eased since late 2022, when most of the state was in severe or extreme drought, according to the USDA. 

A series of storms that pummeled the west coast in early 2023, blanketing the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains in snow, caused snowpack in the mountains to be 137% above average.

It is expected that California will have less snowpack in 2023-24 than in 2022-23. However, drought conditions have eased relative to 2019/20 through 2021/22 (which were California’s 3 driest years on record).

As of March 18, 2024, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) reported that 9% more precipitation had fallen, there was 2% more snowpack, and reservoir levels were 16% higher than the water year-to-date historical average. 

Stone fruit season period

Last year, California stone fruit hit the peak of its season in mid-August. With an early start this year, this period could occur earlier. 

An official estimate of the 2024 California stone fruit season has not been released by any entity at the time of this article.

California produces more than 80% of the nation’s stone fruit.

70% of America’s peaches are grown in the state, along with 95% of apricots, 95% of fresh plums, and 99% of nectarines. With some counties in the Central Valley devoting as many as 38,000 acres to stone fruit production, California is known as the stone fruit state.

At a national level, the USDA said in September 2023 that U.S. production in 2023-24 is forecast down 76,000 tons to 574,000 the lowest level in at least 40 years.  

The projection was due to the three largest producer states ‐ California, South Carolina, and Georgia ‐ all experiencing damaging weather, with South Carolina and Georgia suffering from a second consecutive year of destructive freezes.  

USDA‐NASS surveyed the industry and published the U.S. forecast for peach production in the August 2023 Crop Production report.  

Exports were projected down 11,000 tons to 50,000, suppressed by lower supplies, while imports are expected to remain flat at 32,000 tons as higher shipments from Mexico offset lower shipments from Chile at the start of the marketing year (January‐December).  

Consumption was forecast down to 556,000 tons on lower supplies and flat demand for Southern Hemisphere supplies during the off‐season.

Source: USDA

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