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Sweet outlook for California's date crop
The California date harvest has commenced and the crop is looking good for producers as they aim to fill a growing demand. The Medjool harvest has already commenced, while the Deglet Noor will begin shortly.
"We grow our dates in California's Coachella Valley which stretches all the way from the Salton Sea through to Palm Springs," said DJ Ryan, of SunDate. "The Medjool harvest commenced in the first week of September and will finish up in mid to late October. We also have our Deglet Noor harvest which runs from around the first to third week of October and generally runs through the end of November, beginning of December. Medjools are larger and primarily sold on the fresh market, whereas the Deglets are picked when they're dryer, hydrated and pitted, and then sold for either further processing or the retail market."
High quality crop on the way
Dates thrive in a desert environment and thus the Coachella Valley is an ideal location, with its very high summer temperatures, arid climate and good access to irrigation sources. This year's hot summer has helped yields reach healthy levels while the quality and size of the dates is looking very favorable.
"We're seeing a really good volume coming through. It's close to average or maybe a bit higher," Ryan said. "The quality of the crop is very high this year, along with larger sizes. The dates love heat and water and they had plenty of that this year. We're fortunate that we have a great groundwater source fed by the Colorado river. As a result, we are able to provide them with plenty of water thanks to advances in irrigation technology. We have experienced moderate cooling in the last few weeks, which has delayed the Deglet Noor crop by about a week or two, and that has been the only effect."
Market strong as consumers look to healthy alternatives
Demand for dates continues to grow, with the result that producers are barely able to keep up with demand. Ryan explained the rise in popularity of dates can be attributed to customers and manufacturers seeking healthier alternatives to corn syrup and other processed sugars.
"The date industry is exploding, and although imports of Deglet Noors are well established, California growers are able to sell out their stock across all levels of the market," he continued. "There is a desire from consumers to get away from corn syrup and other processed sugars. Dates are often used as an alternative, as they are sweet and yet don't change the flavor profile of the product. An example are fruit and energy bars which use them as a sweetener. Therefore, the date market is very strong and we have been seeing historically high prices, especially for Deglet Noors. Medjool demand is also very strong, as we spend a lot of time developing the overseas and domestic market."
Organic date products gain traction
SunDate also noted that organic varieties of dates are being raised in profile in the market and now produce half of their crop organically, with the help of knowledge passed from other sectors of the business.
"We are seeing an increase in demand in the organic sector," Ryan said. "Our company is partly owned by Anthony Vineyards, the largest organic table grape grower in the United States. Using knowledge and expertise gained from this part of the business on both the farming and marketing sides, we're able to transition that to our dates. This has been very favorable and we are now able to grow approximately 50% of our dates organically."
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