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Prune harvest under way
While the olive may reign supreme in Corning, the prune is definitely in the royal court.
In fact, Tehama County's prune crop well exceeds the monetary value of the county's olive crop annually.
This year's prune harvest is under way and Luis Lopez, an prune orchard worker for grower Pete Dagorret of Richfield, said crop is "very good."
On Tuesday, Lopez and several other workers were out in Dagorret's prune orchard on Napa Road in Richfield using a shaker and receiver to harvest the crop of little plums that will then be transported to Sunsweet Dryers in Corning and dried into prunes.
Unlike olives, there is no problem harvesting prunes due to a lack of labor, as prunes are harvested mechanically.
"We use the shaker on one side of the row of trees to grab and shake the prunes off the tree. Those prunes fall into a receiver that catches the prunes as it moves parallel to the shaker moving down the other side of the tress," Lopez explained.
The receiver moves the prunes down a conveyor system that dumps the fruit into a big bin, which, once full, is moved onto a truck and taken to the dryer.
Not a lot of two-legged labor involved, but things can go wrong, as Lopez can attest, if a machine breaks down.
"We had to stop right in the middle of harvest and fix a hose on the receiver already this morning," he said.
The uncertainties of farming are always consistent.
Although Lopez said Dagorret's crop is good, the California Department of Food and Agriculture forecast in July the state's "dried plum" crop to be 120,000 tons, dried basis. That is down 12 percent from the 2011 crop of 137,000 tons. In 2007, however, the crop totaled only 83,000 tons and in 2004, even smaller at 48,000 tons. So, while the crop isn't as good as last year, it is still, as Lopez said, a good crop.
In Tehama County, prunes brought in 22,105 tons in 2011, up from the previous year's 18,698 tons.
The statewide bearing acreage continues to decline for the third consecutive year in 2012, according to the state department, but Tehama County continues with 8,310 acres in prunes, the same as 2010.
As grower prices in 2009 to 2011 continued to fall below the 2008 average high of $1,500 per ton, the Greg Thompson, general manager of the Board of Directors of the Prune Bargaining Association said this year's price is 13 percent higher than last year, at $1,300 to $1,400 per ton depending on the size of the fruit.
"We have a good overall crop this year, some orchards have a light crop, some heavy, but overall good. One issue is that the fruit size is a little small and that impacts the price per ton for the grower," he said.
The board is recommending that a similar increase in price occurs next year in order to restore profitability to prune production in the state.
"We anticipate seeking a $50 per ton increase next year," Thompson said.
California dominates US prune production with virtually all of its production destined for the processing sector, mostly to dried fruit processors.
With the forecast smaller crop this year, lower carry-in inventories point to a decline in overall prune supplies during the upcoming 2012/13 marketing season, likely driving up new-season prices for California prunes.