The date harvest in California has wrapped up for the year and growers are now busy sorting and preparing to pack the desert-loving fruit. This year's summer conditions were close to the average, with sufficiently hot temperatures and low humidity for the most part.
"We're done with picking and we are currently sorting the dates by grade, texture, size and quality," said Kassie Ripley of Imperial Date Gardens, Inc. "This year, we have a good crop and volume was as expected. Annually we harvest 10,000,000 pounds of dates, and we were close to that with only a small amount left on the trees. We also yielded a lot of good sized fruit which is our main product, although there is also a use for the smaller, drier dates."
Dates appeal to millennials and healthy snack consumers
Suppliers are noting that the trend for healthier snacking options is providing a boost for dates. Another related group are millennials who are also seeking out dates. "Dates are getting more popular and growers are seeing the benefits of millennials and the healthy snack movement," Ripley observed.
Ripley added that the company sells a mix of wholesale and retail, with prices moving up slightly from a year ago. "Most of the dates we harvest are sold as wholesale through the Bard Valley association," she noted. "Meanwhile Imperial Date Gardens handles large retail orders especially during Ramadan. At the moment, prices for 11lb premium grade dates are close to $58, while 11lb of lower grade is selling for $25. This represents an increase of $1 over last year."
Conversion to organic fields
This year, Imperial Date Gardens announced the certification of a number of their fields to organic. The company said that in fact, the majority of their trees are grown according to organic methods, with certification simply the next step. The organic dates are destined for the wholesale market for the most part.
"We are converting a few of our fields to certified organic," Ripley shared. "Prior to the certification, we already were applying organic growing practices, including the use of sprays and different methods. To kill bacteria, for example, we always freeze dates for two weeks to eliminate any bacteria from the fruit. Certifying these fields as organic was the next natural step."
"Dates are a unique fruit that require a lot of manual labor," she continued. "They also have a long shelf life of up to a year, and even longer when freezing."