Non-citrus fruit crops forecast smaller, nut crops mixed

by Ron Sterk
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KANSAS CITY — The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast smaller 2008 fruit crops but mixed crops of nuts for California, with declines mostly resulting from frosts and freezes earlier in the year.

Actual apple and walnut estimates will not be available until later in the year, but both are expected to be affected by April freezes, as were peach and strawberry crops, the U.S.D.A. said in its initial outlook for the 2008-09 season. The cold spring across northern California and the Pacific Northwest also caused an undetermined amount of damage to nectarines, pears, prunes, grapes and sweet cherries, the U.S.D.A. said.

California’s total peach production was forecast by the U.S.D.A. at 830,000 tons (1,660 million lbs), down 11% from 933,000 tons in 2007 but up 17% from 712,000 tons in 2006. Production of clingstone peaches, used mostly for canning and processing, was forecast at 400,000 tons, down 20% from 503,000 tons in 2007 "due to extensive frost damage in April," the U.S.D.A. said. The freestone peach crop, sold mostly fresh, was unchanged from last year at 430,000 tons, although early season shipments were down from 2007.

Strawberry production in 2008 was forecast at 2,400 million lbs in California and Florida, down slightly from last year. Although the California crop was forecast record large at 2,200 million lbs, up 2% from 2007, the Florida winter crop of 208 million lbs was down 22% due to a January freeze, the U.S.D.A. said.

"Projected record high strawberry production in California in 2008 will continue to put downward pressure on strawberry prices for the remainder of spring and through the high-demand period of the summer months when shipments peak for the season," the U.S.D.A. said in its latest Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook.

While the first 2008 apple production forecast will not be issued until August, the U.S.D.A. said, "Reduced supplies in 2007-08, strong international demand and the possibility of smaller-than-anticipated new crop supplies due to a mid-April freeze in Washington portend to continued higher prices for apples in the coming months."

Almond production in 2008 was forecast record large at 1,460 million lbs, shelled basis, up 80 million lbs, or 6%, from last year’s record crop of 1,380 million lbs and up 340 million lbs, or 30%, from 2006, the U.S.D.A. said.

Almond area this year was forecast by the U.S.D.A. at 660,000 acres, up 7% from 2007. A year ago the U.S.D.A. estimated 740,000 acres were planted to almond trees in California, of which 125,000 acres had not yet begun to bear a commercial crop.

"With such a large number of nonbearing acres, the trend toward increasing bearing acreage will continue for several more years," the U.S.D.A. said in its Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook. "Due to the continuing strong returns growers receive from almonds, producers who previously were planting program crops have been replacing some of the field crop acres to almonds. Among the major crops produced in the state (California), only acres planted to feed corn and grapes exceeded the quantity planted to almonds."

Concerns about a shortage of honeybees due to colony collapse disorder proved unwarranted as growers reported sufficient bees for pollination, the U.S.D.A. said. Weather during pollination also was favorable.

August through April almond shipments were up 8% domestically and 22% internationally from 2006-07, the U.S.D.A. said. Exports to Spain, the largest buyer of U.S. almonds, were up 50% for the period. About twothirds of the U.S. crop is exported, the U.S.D.A. said.

California’s walnut production appears to be declining, the U.S.D.A. said. Although the first forecast for 2008 walnut production will not be released until July, the U.S.D.A. said the number of nonbearing trees has been declining for several years, "indicating that the growth in overall walnut acres, and potentially production, will be slowing in the near future." Last year 243,000 acres were planted to walnut trees, of which 25,000 acres were nonbearing.

While 2008 should be an "up" year for alternate-year bearing walnut trees, a late April freeze might reduce production in northern areas, the U.S.D.A. said. Shipments were down 5% in 2007 from a year earlier. The 2007 California walnut crop was 320,000 tons (in shell), down 26,000 tons, or 8%, from 2006.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, June 10, 2008, starting on Page 32. Click here to search that archive.

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