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Hot summer fuels intense but short California fig season

It's been a hot summer in California, especially in the agricultural regions. This has created mixed fortunes for many producers, ranging from lower yields to damaged fruit to a bumper crop for some. For fig growers though, it has meant that their season turned into a 'blink and you'll miss it' year. Most fig producers have almost wrapped up for the year after a brief but intense season. 

"The season was fast and furious!" said Casey Hollnagel, of Vertical Foods LLC in California. "We started off with the early season Breba in June, and our main crop began on August 1. This finished up in early September and now we're concluding sales for the season already. There was a lot of heat this summer, definitely hotter than last year, therefore they produced all their fruit in a shorter season."

Volume the same
Despite the shorter season, volumes remained steady as the fig trees soaked up the sunshine and intensified fruiting. In essence, the season was simply compressed. "Volumes remained the same as a typical season," continued Hollnagel. "We harvested the same amount in 4 weeks as we typically would in 6. The heat really sped up production but did not eventuate into more fruit. Such a hot season may stress the trees in the short term, which results in them producing more fruit. But overall, it does not damage the tree in the long term. Soon, they will go into their dormant stage for the winter."

Prices strengthen after dip during peak
With volumes now tapering off as the season concludes, prices are steadily rising again after taking a hit during the peak of the season in August. But growers this year have seen higher prices overall than normal accompanied by a dip in demand. 

"At the start of the season, we saw prices in the mid $30s for a 10lb box. As the season hit its peak in August, they gradually dipped to the low $20s. At the moment now in mid September, prices have strengthened back into the low $30s," Hollnagel said. "Overall, prices were higher than average and consequently, demand has softened."

"Figs are a labor-intensive crop," he added. "Labor costs typically run at about 75% of the overall cost of production. So when there is a shortage of labor, and resultant higher labor costs, like we have seen this year, those costs weigh heavily on the bottom line. Therefore, they are often passed on through the supply chain which is why we are packing less and asking for higher prices."

For more information: 
Casey Hollnagel
Vertical Foods LLC
Tel: +1 (559) 743-0100

Publication date: 9/19/2017
Author: Dennis M. Rettke
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


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