Prune Growers Have Tough Season Economically

California Prune Growers Suffer Economically

California prune growers forced economically to make a 23% reduction in crop deliveries and suffered a 28% reduction in price. This hardship comes despite several positive factors for the industry, including $50 million in USDA purchases of prunes and positive results from trade mitigation offsets and industry promotion efforts in Japan and elsewhere.

Growers reviewed the daunting double hit to grower returns from several factors, including the disruption to trade caused by the coronavirus pandemic at the 52nd annual membership meeting of the Prune Bargaining Association (PBA) on Thursday last week by conference call/video conference.

According to data presented by PBA General Manager Greg Thompson, average grower returns for several growers will fall by more than $500 per ton from the previous crop year. “Growers are to be commended for the tremendous efforts they have made to match production with demand,” explained Thompson. “Growers were told they would be paid little or nothing for smaller prunes, so they increased their efforts to prune, thin, and then screen out fruit at harvest, bringing the crop down from an estimated 110,000 tons to 85,000 tons.”

As background, according to the University of California, growers have an investment of nearly $18,000 per acre (not including land) to establish a prune orchard. Growers spend an additional $4,194 per acre each year to produce and deliver the crop. “The extra effort made this past year by growers increases expenses and reduces yields,” explains Thompson. “It is truly a double whammy to have grower prices fall so precipitously.”

The brutal cut to grower prices comes in the face of many positives for the industry. Imports of cheaper but more inferior quality prunes are down 76% for the first five months of the year, while domestic shipments of California prunes are up 13%. USDA programs in response to unfair and retaliatory tariffs and trade barriers, and needy family feeding programs, have helped offset losses in overseas markets and gain back market share.

Shipments to Japan, a key market for California prunes, are up 14% over the previous year. Over the past three years, the USDA has purchased nearly $50 million of prunes for needy families, school lunches, and other feeding programs.

One of the biggest positives for the California prune growers comes from a united industry working together to promote health and wellness through nutrition research. “Everbody wants to make a health claim these days,” explains Ranvir Singh, PBA President. “But prunes are the tried and true healthy and completely natural food. There is so much more to the health benefits of eating prunes than anyone first imagined.”

Scientific research is revealing more and more about the importance of gut health to overall health. Prunes have been shown to positively impact both gut health and bone health, among other bonuses. “The benefits of micro-nutrients, boron, potassium, fiber, and an apparent anti-inflammation benefit in the gut make prunes a truly remarkable food,” remarks Singh.

The Prune Bargaining Association was formed in 1968 as a grower-owned cooperative to improve the California prune industry’s economy, encourage the production of a quality product, and provide a forum for growers to exchange ideas regarding the industry. The PBA establishes the industry’s raw product price for prunes.

Dried Plums or Prunes? Name Debate Continues.

Important Research Continues on Dried Plums

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Gary Obenauf oversees the production research programs for the California Dried Plum Board. California Ag Today spoke with him recently about the work that he does with the fruit, also known as prunes.

Gary Obenauf, Production Research Manager

Obenauf helps with post-harvest issues in storage and handling. He also helps the industry with technical issues such as maximum residue limits, also known as MRLs.

“We ship to 135 different countries around the world,” said Obenauf. “We are the largest producer in the world of dried plums—most of the rest of the world still calls him prunes instead of dried plums.”

Obenauf said prunes are now being called dried plums due to a marketing issue about 10 to 15 years ago.

“We noticed that the younger millennials preferred dried plums over prunes, and we made the name change, but we are probably going change it back to prunes,” he said.

Obenauf said that insects, diseases, production cost, and pruning costs are some of the big challenges in the industry. “Essentially, 95 percent of our production is one variety; we need multiple varieties,” Obenauf said.

“We have an active breeding program, but we have not yet come up with good alternatives to the French prune,” he said. “The improved French prune is a good variety, and it is hard to find replacements, and that’s the problem we are having.”

Prunes May Be Answer to Osteoporosis

Prunes May Help Fight Osteoporosis

By Melissa Moe, Associate Editor

California is the world’s largest producer of dried plums, producing about 40% of the world’s supply and 99% of the U.S. supply. Dried plums, also known as prunes, are considered to be a super food thanks to their valuable nutritional content. Recently, California Ag Today spoke to Donn Zea, the executive director of the California Dried Plum Board, about the prune industry and the nutritional benefits of prunes.

“The growers are doing well. Of course, we’ve lost acreage over the last decade. We’re at about 47,000 acres or so. We have a big crop this year; it looks like 105,000 tons. Last year was a short one because of the weather. We seem to be in a good place, Zea said. “I think acreage, certainly in California but even globally, is in balance with demand, and it’s our job now to make sure that we continue to keep California prunes at a high value profile. We like to think that we grow them better and that they taste better than any other prune in the world.”

Recent studies show that prunes are able to assist in aiding and even reversing osteoporosis, the process in which bones become fragile and brittle due to old age.

“We’re finding out a lot about the prune’s role in slowing or even reversing age-related osteoporosis and improving bone health in women so far, but we’re now doing research in men,” Zea said. “There’s a lot of exciting things going on there, especially for those that can’t eat dairy. It’s not the calcium. What we’re learning is that it’s a combination of polyphenols that are working together in prunes. The evidence seems to be clear, in the animal studies we’ve done and in the clinical trials that we’ve done, that these combinations of nutrients and micronutrients are working together to produce a defense against osteoporosis and bone loss and maybe even strengthening bone.”

Early Rain Caused Concern for Butte County Rice Growers

Butte County Rice Growers Respond to Early Rain

 

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

The Butte County Farm Bureau has been working to protect agriculture’s interests since 1917, thanks in large part to the continued hard work of their members. With continued support, the Bureau is able to advocate for growers on important issues in the community and fund educational opportunities.

Colleen Cecil, executive director of the Bureau, observed the rice harvest looks strong for Butte County rice growers, but a weather-related issue caused a bit of a problem during harvest. “We had some wet weather and then we had a break. Then it was, ‘Hurry up and get it done before the next storm comes in,’” said Cecil.

While the weather was an issue for growers, its impact was minimal. “There was a percentage, somewhere in the teens likely, of rice that was still left out in the field after the last wet weather event [in which] we just got pounded with rain,” Cecil noted.

“Water shortages over the past couple of years had forced many rice growers in Northern California to cut back on overall production. However earlier this year, as a result of improved rainfall last winter, growers went back to planting a more average level of rice. Those fields that had been taken out of production had a good amount of rest, and are now producing nicely once again.”

Though not uncommon, growers may have adjusted their harvest schedule in response to the early winter rain. “While it does happen on occasion, it is not ideal for farmers to harvest rice after wet weather all the time. It goes more slowly, it becomes a little messier, and it requires a transition from tires to tracks on their harvesting equipment. Again, it slows it down,” Cecil said.

“In 2013, the average rice grower in Butte County was producing just under 90 sacks per acre, with each sack weighing the [approximately] 100 pounds. Butte County has close to 88 thousand bearing acres of rice. While the local industry remains strong, early rainy weather can put a dent in production.”

Cecil explained, “It wasn’t that they couldn’t get [the rice] out, it was that the crop wasn’t ready to come out. There was still a tremendous amount of moisture in it and it wasn’t at the right percentage of moisture to take out of the field, so they had to wait.”

Last year’s crop report shows that Butte County’s five most valuable crops were walnuts, almonds, rice, prunes and peaches. The area’s walnut crop alone was valued at just under $241 million dollars. Cecil said this year’s harvest, “the almonds came off without a hitch. The walnuts got tagged at the end with the wet weather, but I don’t think it slowed everybody down,” Cecil said.


Featured Photo: Richard and Laurel Nelson’s Farm, Twin Creek Ranch, on Pleasant Grove Road and Marcum, Thursday, September 29, 2016.
Photo Courtesy of California Rice Commission/Brian Baer Photography

Butte County Rice Growers Association (BUCRA)