WASHINGTON, D.C. — The lower prices growers received for strawberries, pears, and processing oranges in April 2004 relative to the same time a year ago more than offset the higher returns received from other fruit, pushing the April grower price index for fruit and nuts down 6 percent from the April 2003 index.

The USDA says that at 90 (1990-92=100), the index was lower than a year ago for the first time this year and the lowest for the month since 1997. At the retail level, consumers paid higher prices in April for Red Delicious apples, Thompson seedless grapes, navel oranges, and grapefruit.

Commercial strawberry production in the two major producing states — California and Florida — is forecast at 2.1 billion pounds in 2004, up 3 percent from a year ago.

California crop

In California, the crop is forecast to be 3 percent larger, surpassing the previous record crop in 2003.

Production in Florida this past winter is estimated to be 5 percent larger than a year ago. Supplies out of California are currently running above a year ago and resulting in lower prices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecast the 2004 California peach crop to be 1.97 billion pounds, 5 percent larger than a year ago. Production data for both California nectarines and plums in 2004 will not be available until January 2005. However, pre-season estimates from the California Tree Fruit Agreement, a grower-funded organization that promotes the marketing of fresh-market peaches, nectarines, and plums, indicate nectarine production will be up 3 percent while plum production will be down 16 percent. Despite larger early-season supplies, good fruit quality and moderate demand have kept peach and nectarine prices strong.

California’s almond growers are expecting a record-large almond crop for the 2003/04 season. Production is forecast at 1.1 billion pounds, 6 percent higher than last season and 1 percent higher than two seasons ago, when the last record was set.