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- Kings County, Calif., stone fruit grower John Warmerdam says the peach ripening protocol developed by Carlos Crisosto has dramatically changed fruit marketing for the better.
John W, Warmerdam, left, and his dad John N. Warmerdam are second- and third-generation Kings County, Calif., farmers. They farm 350 acres of peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries and walnuts under the name Kings Orchards.
Kings County, Calif., stone fruit grower John Warmerdam has an unusual way of characterizing California peach, plum and nectarine seasons.
Typically, most years growers annually complain about how poor the year has been, yet they still buy a new pickup, he says.
The 2013 season just ended, Warmerdam said, was a year when a grower buys the new pickup but doesn’t complain. Not too much to harp about this fall.
Warmerdam is a third-generation Hanford, Calif., orchardist. He and his 73-year-old father, also John, farm 350 acres of orchards. They operate their own fruit packing shed, packing 300,000 to 350,000 boxes of peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries annually. They also farm walnuts. The younger Warmerdam spends most of his time during the summer running the packing facility, but also shares management duties with his dad in the field. The family markets their peaches, plums and nectarines through the Summeripe program operated out of Mountain View Fruit Sales, Reedley, Calif.
“Prices were good this year. Supply and demand were pretty well in balance,” except for a period in June when the market was flooded and prices dropped. “Everyone got hammered then,” he said. “It took a couple weeks or so for the industry to get out of the oversupply.”
2012 prices overall were better than 2013, he added. However, 2012 was an infamous year for his family’s operation. A photo on his computer screen saver constantly reminds him of a fruit grower’s worst nightmare. It’s one of his orchards, covered so thick with hailstones it looks like snow. It was the “Photo of the Day” for a Fresno television station. "We were on the news for the wrong reason,” he said. Half of the family’s Kings Orchards were destroyed in that season, a reminder of a farmer’s capricious profession even when commodity prices are good.
Like most farmers, the 38-year-old Warmerdam likes to compare immediate years. However, a more dramatic picture of his industry emerges looking at it over the past seven years. In that brief time span, shipments of California tree fruit dropped about 20 million boxes. Some of the biggest packing house/growers names in the business disappeared and thousands of fruit trees were taken out, often replaced with more profitable orchard crops like almonds or citrus.
With the demise of the California Tree Fruit Agreement marketing order, no one officially counts the number of peaches, plum and nectarine boxes shipped each year. Warmerdam and Summeripe quality assurance manager Charlie Lack believe when this season is tallied, the total will be about 45 million boxes. Last year it was 40 million. It was in the 60-million-box range in the first decade of this century.
Annual per person consumption of peaches in the U.S. peaked at 13 pounds in the early 1970s. By 2008 it had dropped to 8.8 pounds per person. Consumer research conducted revealed buyer frustration with peach quality as a big reason for the drop.