Peach growers are looking at a stellar crop for 2007, says Andy Dugo, PCA with Mid Valley Ag at Escalon. “The crop looks great. The only issue might be fruit size because we set so much fruit per tree. Growers had to thin and then go back in and thin again.”

As with most other crops throughout California this season, disease and pest pressure have been almost non-existent. “It’s been the cleanest crop I’ve ever seen,” Dugo says. “We had a little mildew early, but that straightened out without any problem. Then there was a little leaf mildew later, but nothing significant.”

Growers began harvesting Loadels the first of July in the Escalon area, which is right on track, according to Dugo. “In terms of crop development, everything is normal. The biggest problem has been labor — we have a huge shortage, and that has driven up costs. Thinning was expensive, simply because we had to do so much of it this with a tight labor situation.”

This year’s heavy crop load is good news for the industry, but growers shouldn’t walk away from their orchards after harvest and head immediately for the — at least not until post-harvest duties are addressed. Replenishing nutrients drained from the trees and soil is particularly critical after a bumper crop, according to Chuck Moran, Branded Products Manager for Wilbur-Ellis at Fresno.

“A heavy crop pulls a lot of nutrients out of the tree,” he says. “If you don’t replace those nutrients, then you’re just mining the soil.”

A 15-ton crop of peaches will pull out about 95 units of nitrogen, 40 units of phosphate, and 120 units of potassium, according to Moran. The same tonnage of prunes will pull 90-30-130 units, respectively.

It’s not just NPK that growers should be concerned about, says Moran. “Minor elements also play a critical role in the health of the tree and the success of the crop. For example, 15 tons of prunes will also pull out 21 units of sulfur, 30 units of calcium, and 6 units of magnesium. All these nutrients play critical roles for optimum production. If you don’t replace them on a regular basis, you’re just going downhill.”

Stone fruit growers should be pulling tissue samples at least twice a year, Moran says. “Three times would be better. Early in the season, it helps to know exactly what you need to supplement the crop as it develops. Post-harvest sampling will help set the stage for a fully-nourished crop the following year.”