Price is always a factor, but stone fruit growers are generally optimistic about the upcoming season.

“The year is shaping up very good thus far because of chilling hours,” says Andy Dugo, PCA with Mid Valley Agricultural Services, in Escalon. “We’re probably 20-30 percent ahead of normal. All of the early cling peach varieties – Loadel, Carson, Stanislaus and Tuolumne –have all set a pretty good crop. So far we haven’t seen much in the terms of disease pressure although the weather has been favorable for mildew. We’re looking out for that now. Growers have only put out one fungicide application for brown rot. The most significant factor at this point has been a blast of canker due to the cold weather. That’s a soil issue for the most part. Nutrient levels, soil pH and nematodes drive that situation.”

Although it is still too early to determine yield and quality to any discernable point, the industry is fairly optimistic about the 2007 crop. With thinning underway, some orchard blocks show a slight size decrease as compared to last year, while many others show normal to above-normal sizing. Corking is not expected to be an issue this year, a positive effect of the warm, dry spring.

“We’re still in the estimating process in terms of yield,” says Sheri Mierau, president, California Tree Fruit Agreement (CTFA). “It’s too early to tell numbers, but the quality and taste outlook is great with our cold winter and warm spring. We’ve had a great start to the growing season. Favorable winter and spring weather have created ideal conditions for peach, plum and nectarine development to this point.”

A cool winter delivered more than 1,000 chilling hours, and peach, plum and nectarine trees were well-rested coming into the spring bloom season. The ample chill hours resulted in a strong, uniform bloom, according to Mierau. “The warm, dry spring weather has been conducive to the development of fruit with high sugars and a great-tasting eating experience,” she says.

The recent east coast freeze has California growers and marketers eyeing market updates on a daily basis. “Usually we will see an increased interest from retailers in those growing regions that are affected,” Mierau says. “Typically, it has less affect with retailers in non-growing regions who aren’t as likely to have strong ‘local’ programs in regions like Georgia or South Carolina.”