Most years, the California stone fruit deal begins in late April, with apricots and cherries leading the way. This year, however, various factors have combined to delay the early varieties by as much as two weeks.
“There’s nothing yet,” said Jarod Hunting, a produce buyer for Earl’s Organic Produce, located on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market. “What I am hearing from our suppliers is that everything has been pushed back about two weeks. It’s going to be the first and second weeks of May before we see cherries and apricots—and a week after that before we see any peaches or nectarines.”
Jarod Hunting, Buyer, Earl's Organic Produce
Hunting added, “We are expecting that there will be organic stone fruit volume by Memorial Day and plenty of opportunities for promotions for the Fourth of July.”
The late start is being attributed to tremendous amounts of rain and colder-than-usual weather, which impacted bloom and pollination. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a good season.
“We are telling our customers that overall it is going to be a unique and positive year,” Hunting said.
The incredible volumes of rain and the lingering snowpack have been very good for the health of the trees. “And there were more than 1,000 chill hours, which is also good for the fruit,” Hunting said.
“We are telling our customers that overall it is going to be a unique and positive year.” - Jarod Hunting
Hunting said he has heard that the varieties that need bee pollination might have a fruit set a little bit on the light side, but not all stone fruit varieties need the help of the bees.
“Most peaches and nectarines are self-pollinating, so they have not been affected,” he said, noting that apricots, plums, and cherries do rely on bees to help them set a good crop. “I understand pollination has been a little bit of a challenge this season because of the cold, but overall we are expecting good volume.”
Stephen Paul, stone fruit category manager for Homegrown Organic Farms in Porterville, CA, agreed on the anticipated late start to the California organic stone fruit season.
Stephen Paul, Stone Fruit Category Manager, Homegrown Organic Farms
“We are one or two weeks later than last year’s start date on most of the early varieties,” Paul said, adding that the degree of lateness is dependent on many things, including where orchards are located because of the many microclimates in the Central Valley.
“Overall, it appears to be an average year [in terms of volume] on most varieties, with some varieties looking to be a little bit right [short] of that,” he said.
“We are one or two weeks later than last year’s start date on most of the early varieties.” - Stephen Paul
Paul expects to have organic apricots by mid-May with peaches and nectarines coming into steady volume by the third and fourth week of the month.
“There are a lot of good positives for the season: we had good chill hours and great rain, which means we have very healthy trees. I expect promotable volume on some varieties in early June, with very good volume by the end of June and into the Fourth of July,” he said.
Homegrown Organic Farms organic nectarines
The late start, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the season is going to be extended two weeks later than usual. While the early varieties, with their earlier bloom period, were impacted by the cold, most of the mid- to late-season varieties are following a more normal schedule.
“It rarely works out that we end up lasting a couple of weeks longer,” Paul said. “Maybe a couple of days, but not a couple of weeks.”
Cindy Richter, director of business development for Fruit World in Reedley, CA, also confirmed that the start of the stone fruit season is running about two weeks later than last year and that the early fruit for many of the varieties has a light set.
Cindy Richter, Director of Business Development, Fruit World
“We feel so fortunate as we have a really heavy crop set of organic apricots and apriums,” she said. “They are running about two weeks late, but at this point we think we are going to see our first pick on May 8. It could be a little sooner or a little later, but that’s our best guess.”
Richter said the valley is getting some nice warm days, but the nights are still cold, which makes estimating the start date a bit tricky. “But the warm days and cool nights are great for the fruit,” she reported. “It helps stone fruit size up and color.”
Fruit World Kylese Aprium
Not only do Fruit World’s organic apricot and aprium orchards have a “significantly larger crop” than last year, but the grower-shipper is also representing new organic apricot acreage.
“But the warm days and cool nights are great for the fruit. It helps stone fruit size up and color.” - Cindy Richter
“We will absolutely have promotable volume by the end of May,” Richter said, adding that the company will have good supplies of the category through June and into early July.
Fruit World also has some organic acreage of the first cherry varieties that will hit the market. Richter said Hazel and Lynn cherries will be the first on the market, probably toward the end of the first week in May, which will also be about two weeks behind last year’s start date of April 19.
Fruit World Hazel cherries
Rounding out the company’s organic stone fruit portfolio are organic peaches and nectarines produced on the Masumoto Family Farm in Del Rey. The family’s heritage goes back four generations, with their organic roots dating back to the 1980s. Richter said that fruit is expected to be available in late May, with the family reporting that the early fruit set is light but volume will pick up as the season wears on, and the fruit quality appears to be excellent.