California prune crop doubled this year

Prune growers must be twice as pleased with the results of this year’s crop. 2016 saw a mere 50 per cent of the normal crop expectation. 2017 stands to be nearly 100 per cent over the previous year, which is both exciting and a relief for growers and prune handlers needing to take care of their customers and the California Prune Board itself. 

Harvest doubled from 2016
The harvest was projected at 105,000 tons (compare that to 2016’s 52,851 ton crop). This year’s harvest began a little later than normal due to a very hot summer delaying the all-important sweetness level in the fruit and he said that even as late as the end of September fruit was still being shipped from growers. 

Outperformed other crops during the drought
Weather in recent years has created challenges for prune growers, but Zea says trees are rebounding this year. Growers believe last year’s short crop was mostly related to a period of unusually cold and windy weather in the spring that discouraged bees from pollinating the trees. After a prolonged drought in California a deluge of rains returned in the 2016 growing season providing more than adequate water for most crops. According to Zea, prunes fared better than some crops during the drought because of the growing region being mostly in the northern part of the state where water was more readily available. California produces approximately 90 percent of the United States and 40 percent of the world’s supply of prunes. 

Chile as competition
Zea tips his hat to competition from Chile when it comes to the tariffs they enjoy, while quality of fruit can’t compare to California-grown. “Chile has been able to negotiate very beneficial trading agreements that allow for tariff-free export into markets once dominated by California prunes, particularly in Europe,” he says. “Combined with its overall lower costs of production the tariff advantages allow Chile producers to sell at unsustainably low prices.”

Changes to prune marketing
In addition to its domestic market, he credits Canada and Japan as high consumption countries. “Our efforts to keep prunes top-of-mind with loyal prune consumers are critical to our competitiveness in the very crowded snacking and healthy food categories”, says Zea. But he also says that new innovation in convenient consumer packaging and the development of the ingredients side is creating new energy in the business. “Prunes in puree form, diced and other derivatives can make bakery, snack bars, yogurts, smoothies, even chocolates better tasting and healthier by using them to substitute for less wholesome products. We believe the move towards clean-label eating is perfect for us.” The California Prune Board now also has physical presence in Canada, working with its Toronto-based agency to reach out to consumers and nutrition professionals to promote the healthy goodness and versatility of prunes.

California prune drying advanced
The plums are washed in fresh water, placed on wooden trays and put into temperature controlled dehydration tunnels soon after they are harvested, a craftsmanship that results in consistent quality all the time. The process of “tunnel drying” plums was perfected in California, and today California prune drying and processing plants are the largest and most advanced in the world.

Nutritional power
The California Prune Board takes nutrition seriously and works to create interest among leading researchers to discover more about prunes. Zea says researchers are now linking prunes to the maintenance of healthy bones in post-menopausal women, a population most likely to suffer from osteoporosis. Research has now turned to bone benefits in men and NASA, the U.S. space agency, has actually studied prunes as a food to be eaten in space to prevent radiation-induced bone loss. “Prunes have an amazing combination of nutrients and polyphenols that apparently combine for powerful health benefits,” Zea says. The more we learn about the wonders of prunes the more we’re enthusiastic about the future.” 

For more information:
Donn Zea
California Prune Board
Ph: (916) 565-6232

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