Some crops coming in early
Some fruit crops may be harvested early this year.
Though not as early as last year, prunes may be harvested as much as 10 days ahead of the normal schedule.
Growers anticipate light harvests for both prunes and peaches.
The Yuba-Sutter area's first harvested peaches were loaded up and trucked to Del Monte from an orchard on Simpson Lane just outside of Marysville. The 33 bins harvested Friday were extra early.
The variety, Thiara 2, was developed by local grower Gurdev Thiara.
Like other varieties still ripening in local orchards, Thiara 2 has some brown rot and hail damage, Thiara said.
"But the size is good and the taste is sweet," he added.
In 2004, Thiara 2 was harvested three days earlier than this year. That trend is expected to continue with other varieties.
Loadel is generally one of the first varieties harvested in the area, according to Ajayab Dhaddey, field operations manager for the California Canning Peach Association.
"They're a little bit early, but not that early," Dhaddey said.
This year's harvest is expected to begin in earnest around July 5, more than a week later than in 2004. Dhaddey was reluctant to call it an early harvest.
"I'd call it more normal. The bloom was early," he said.
Dhaddey said the peach harvest, like prunes, is expected to be light this year as brown rot affects yields. Last year's peaches were relatively brown rot-free, but the late rains this spring left trees moist and ripe for fungal growth.
Furthermore, breezy days caused scabbing on the fruit.
The rot will likely cost growers as they are forced to use more pesticides to save their fruit and require additional sorters to pick out bad fruit, Dhaddey said. "Growers are going to have to work really hard to get quality this year," he said.
Similar losses are expected for prune growers.
Sutter County Agricultural Commissioner Mark Quisenberry said 60 percent of the crop in the county was lost this year. As bad as that number is, it's about 40 percent better production than last year, when Sutter County prune growers lost nearly all of their crop.
Greg Thompson, general manager of the Prune Bargaining Association, said about half a ton of prunes was harvested per acre last year, which is a quarter of normal production. This year, he is seeing about half of normal production.
Growers who are able to harvest will possibly benefit from the lower tonnage.
"Last year's loss reduced surpluses, so the reduced surplus may mean higher prices for the crop. That may mean higher prices for consumers," Quisenberry said.
Thompson said the shortage will likely mean strong prices for growers, a welcome change given that prices have been sliding since 1994.
He anticipated an early prune harvest.
"If peaches are any indication, we're going to be a little earlier than normal - but not as early as last year," Thompson said.
The prune harvest normally starts the second week of August. Growers started harvesting a week to 10 days ahead of schedule last year.
"It may be a little bit early, but it won't be anything close to what they were last year," he said.
Franz Niederholzer, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm adviser for Yuba and Sutter counties, said it is difficult to tell why prunes are ripening early this year.
"The bottom line is, I don't know," he said.
Niederholzer added that the current crop of prunes is already fairly mature. Prunes normally plump out around July 4, but they began that stage of development about a week ago, he said.
"Growers need to know so they don't irrigate according to a normal cycle - and have to pay more for more drying," Niederholzer said.
The early plumping correlates with this year's early bloom. A heat wave just before full bloom may have served as a catalyst for prune growth.
"It's a little bit earlier than normal. Farmers need to add that to the equation," Niederholzer said.
The March heat wave significantly reduced the crop in Yuba-Sutter, which holds about half of the state's prune acreage, according to Niederholzer.
Prune-growing regions to the north and south fared better.
"We got heat with bloom," Niederholzer said. "San Joaquin was warm, but without the winds. The heat and bloom were in Chico, but the wind and heat were later."
Appeal-Democrat reporter Eve Hightower can be reached at 749-4724. You may e-mail her at email@example.com.