The California prune harvest has finished early with volumes down considerably on original estimates.

Harvesting and drying were complete two weeks earlier than originally forecast and the crop is being graded, but it is clear that the crop will fall short of the 105,000 tonne (dry condition) forecast.

Estimates throughout the industry range from 70 per cent to 85 per cent of the original tonnage, with a crop of some 70,000-85,000t now expected. According to CropSource International LLC, green tonnes delivered to dryers were considerably lower than deliveries last year, however overall quality and sizing are reported to be excellent.

“Very high sugar levels in the crop may yet create some surprises in the final tonnage,” the company said in a statement, “however there is zero expectation that the crop will come close to the original estimate.”

Packers are evaluating final tonnage and size distribution within the crop. Although the crop is finishing earlier than normal, there is concern about total availability, especially as it relates to the content of small and medium-sized fruit within the crop.

Prices paid to growers are still being negotiated, according to CropSource International, and producers “are using the short crop to demand higher prices,” a spokesperson said. “ If acceptable grower prices cannot be met, they will continue to remove acreage in favour of higher-returning nut crops.”

Acreage under production of prunes in California has already declined by some 14 per cent in the past two years.