Consumers may soon be paying a heftier price for their daily helping of prunes after the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) warned that this year’s crop was the lowest on record since estimates were first conducted in 1920.
The state’s 2016 harvest is forecast at 45,000 tonnes, compared with 106,800 tonnes in 2015 and 166,000 tonnes as recently as the 2009 season.
According to the CDFA, California's volatile spring weather is at the root of the shortfall as cold, wet and windy conditions prevailed during the bloom period inhibiting bees from performing their usual pollination chores.
Bearing acreage for prunes has been on a steady decline in California since 2000 when 34,800 ha were under cultivation. The CDFA’s 2016 estimate pegs California acreage at just 18,200 ha.
The health benefits of prunes are well documented – the most recent study showing that a daily serving can help strengthen bones. However, California’s acreage has been declining as growers switch to more profitable products such as tree nuts in the face of mounting competition from other suppliers such as Chile and France.