OPN Connect Newsletter 325 · June 22, 2023

California Organic Stone Fruit Hitting Its Stride

California’s organic stone fruit crop got off to a delayed start this year because of a cool spring, but it has moved into full production—and reports are that it was well worth the wait.

“We’ve been surprised about the quality and flavor of the fruit,” said Jarod Hunting, fruit category buyer for Earl’s Organic Produce in San Francisco. “The taste is fantastic. We have always been told that drought conditions push the sugar, so we were wondering what the wet spring would do to the flavor. But the fruit is really delicious.”

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Jarod Hunting, Fruit Category Buyer, Earl's Organic Produce

And there is a lot of it for at least the next couple of months. “The market is a little bit stronger than last year because of some of the crop failures on the conventional side in the Southeast,” Hunting said. “But we still have promotable volume and aggressive pricing. We have been setting up programs for our customers through June and July. There is a lot of great fruit available for 4th of July promotions.”

Organic stone fruit is sizing very well, and there are many options— though some of the varieties are a bit light. “Apricots and pluots are pretty thin, but there are great supplies of peaches and nectarines, especially the yellow varieties … and the white varieties are starting to come on,” Hunting said.

Vitalis February 2024

Frog Hollow Farm organic apricots available at Earl's Organic

There are also plenty of local organic growers north of the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) that have great stone fruit crops this year, Hunting said, adding good volume to what is being delivered by the larger SJV commercial growers. Some of these orchards are well-located in areas where they weren’t as affected by the cold spring. “Right now, we are getting some great local apricots,” he said. “We’ve had huge success supporting these local growers all season.”

“The market is a little bit stronger than last year because of some of the crop failures on the conventional side in the Southeast.” - Jarod Hunting

In the organic tree fruit category, Hunting noted that the Pacific Northwest cherry crop is right around the corner, and it is a great crop. “We are expecting an abundance of cherries beginning as soon as the end of next week,” he said.

Fox Packaging January February 2024

Stephen Paul, stone fruit category director for Homegrown Organic Farms in Porterville, California, had the same positive report about California’s organic stone fruit crop. “We are heading into a peak period,” he said. “For the next 30 days, we are going to have some of the best stone fruit coming out of California.”

Stephen Paul, Stone Fruit Category Director, Homegrown Organic Farms

Even apricots, which were affected the most by this year's cold weather, have been moving into later season varieties that are performing very well, Paul said.

Hiwassee February 2024

Overall, the California organic stone fruit crop is down in volume by about 20 percent. “But the smaller size of the crop has meant larger fruit … at least one size larger,” he noted.

“For the next 30 days, we are going to have some of the best stone fruit coming out of California.” - Stephen Paul

“We thought with the heavy rains, it might be different,” he reasoned. “But mother nature has a say in this as only she can. So, whatever she did, she has produced a crop with great quality and flavor.”

Paul said the FOB price on organic stone fruit is variable. “It’s anywhere from $28 to $38 [per carton],” he said. “We’ve seen some promotions at very low prices that we have not participated in. Frankly, it’s concerning. The market is about $2-$3 more than last year, but that’s not going to make up for the 20 percent reduction in volume that many growers are facing. They need more than that. It’s a problem … a real problem.”

Homegrown Organic Farms organic nectarines

Homegrown is expecting to have a full lineup of California stone fruit by mid-August, with some varieties lasting into September.

As Paul was being interviewed, he was traveling in Oregon looking at the upcoming Pacific Northwest organic blueberry crop. As category manager for that sector, he felt compelled to give blueberries a shout-out. “I am seeing the best blueberries on this trip,” he said. “The size, flavor, and quality are excellent. I have never seen such beautiful bushes and fruit. Oregon is going to live up to its tradition once again this year.”

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Paul said some growers are just beginning to pick their organic blueberry crop, and more will jump in next week. “We are going to have 12 weeks of fun,” he said, noting the crop will last into September.

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