Key crop prices emerge after spring flooding

Demand for California crops increases as tomato production increases, oranges shift from navel to Valencia, grape supply shrinks and peach production freezes in Georgia

(phoenix021 on Adobe Stock)
John Lindt
Published September 13, 2023  • 
10:30 am

CENTRAL VALLEY – While large tracts of farmland were underwater this spring, prices for Valley crops are on the rise as California soil and growers prove to be resilient once again.

California’s tomato processors reported they have or will have contracts for 12.7 million tons of processing tomatoes for 2023, the highest number of contracted planted acres since 2016. This production estimate is 2.4% higher than the January intentions forecast of 12.4 million tons, and 21.4% above the final contracted production total in 2022. The May contracted acreage of 254,000 is 2.4% above the January intentions forecast of 248,000 acres and 24,000 acres more than last year’s final contracted acreage.

Fresno County remains the top California county in contracted planted acreage for 2023 with 62,300 acres. Yolo, Merced, San Joaquin and Kings counties make up the remaining top five counties, accounting for 63.8% percent of the 2023 total contracted planted acreage for California.

After three years of drought conditions, heavy winter storms brought an unprecedented amount of rain to the state, flooding areas in the Central Valley. Fields were wet and muddy well into spring, preventing farmers from planting on schedule. Transplanting continued through May and temperatures remained cooler than normal, resulting in a lag in crop maturity. There is concern that harvest will not be staggered enough for a balanced flow of tomatoes to the canneries. Despite the setbacks, the availability of water and another increase in price agreements have encouraged producers to contract

This early processing tomato estimate is funded by the California League of Food Producers.

Crushing on grape prices

The 2022 California grape crush totaled 3.6 million tons, down 5.4% from the 2021 crush of 3.8 million tons. Red wine varieties accounted for the largest share of all grapes crushed, at 1.9 million tons, down 5.9% from 2021. White wine varieties crushed totaled 1.4 million tons, down 7.4% from 2021. Tons crushed of raisin type varieties totaled 106,237, down 23.0% from 2021, and tons crushed of table type varieties totaled 167,772, up 55.5% from 2021.

The 2022 average price of all varieties was $932.54, up 8.2% from 2021. Average prices for the 2022 crop by type were as follows: red wine grapes, $1,185.40, up 10.4% from 2021; white wine grapes, $689.45, up 2.1% from 2021; raisin grapes, $309.50, up 6.2% from 2021; and table grapes, $214.13, up 17.1% from 2021.

Valencia prices a-peeling

Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual reports that a month ago, Valencia orange prices were averaging around $14. This week, it is averaging $17.39. Size structure has been good, and navel orange supply has been gone for a few weeks, which are two large factors for the increase in price. 

Another factor to the price increases this week is a drop in imports. The crop is about 63% harvested, with utilization right around 70%. That good news for Tulare County, which represents about half of the Valencia crop in the state.

Not so peachy in Georgia

According to the University of Georgia, the state normally produces more than 130 million pounds of peaches annually. This season they lost more than 90% of their crop after abnormally warm weather in the winter and a late-season freeze, says Dario Chavez, an associate professor of horticulture. The last time things were this bad was 1955, according to Lawton Pearson of Pearson Farm in Fort Valley, Ga. 

That leaves California’s crop to fill the market on fresh eating peaches, which means prices to growers are up this year. The USDA Market website says peaches from the San Joaquin Valley fetched $39 a box in LA for size 40 compared to just $18 a box on the same date, Aug 30, 2022, for the same size fruit.

John Lindt
John Lindt is the publisher of Sierra2theSea.net, an online newspaper covering California’s Central Valley and Central Coast.