Spain and Italy are particularly hard-hit as frosty conditions in orchards in many countries this 2021 have led to a slower start to many stone fruit productions across the world.
This situation has, however, benefited sellers in import markets such as the Netherlands, as well as those unaffected by these weather conditions like Turkey and South Africa.
China is facing a particularly difficult season, as increases in production lead to lower prices, and in Australia, production is hampered not by weather, but by a lack of labour due to COVID-19.
The Spanish stone fruit season is starting to get underway. “Elsewhere in Europe, stone fruit has suffered considerable frost damage and my Spanish suppliers are also expecting somewhat lower production than in other years.
Now, in our trade, a little less is often not such a bad thing. It keeps the demand in the product and usually results in a better price. Whereas with melons you see that warm weather immediately causes an upturn in the market, this is less the case in the early stages of the stone fruit season.
Many people are starting to feel summery around about now and are looking for something new. If you go further into the summer, you often see that with sunny weather sales are much easier,” says a Dutch importer.
”With peaches we are now primarily in the thicker sizes (26-28). Sales prices for 4 kg laid are for the thickest sizes around 7.50-8 euros, 6.50-7 euros for the medium sizes and the smallest sizes around 6 euros.
”The price of nectarines is just one euro higher across the board. The price of the paraguayos is around 15-16 euro. Good prices are also being made”, the importer says.
The Spanish stone fruit season is in full swing at the moment. According to a Belgian trader, the good weather of the past few days has created a lot of demand. He is also satisfied with the supply.
“It is said that certain regions in Spain have less supply because of frost damage, but we don’t notice anything about it as far as supply is concerned. The calibres and varieties of peaches, nectarines and apricots are very good and the taste is very good.” For good quality stone fruit, prices are at a reasonably high level.
The Spanish stone fruit season started in mid-April in Andalusia and Murcia, as these regions were barely affected by frosts.
The earliest peach and nectarine harvests are currently starting in Lleida, where the production is expected to be one of the lowest in the last 30 years due to the impact of the frost.
Although the demand has not yet taken off as it should, due to the bad weather, prices are high. Last year there was a noticeable lack of volumes and prices were good.
This year the sector also predicts a good season, as there will be even a lower supply than last year in Spain from this month on, as well as in other European producing countries.
Still, the weather plays a crucial role, as so far, despite there being around 40% fewer apricots available on the market, it has not been easy to keep prices high, as the demand has been slowed down by poor weather across much of the European continent.
The earliest varieties are not the most flavourful, despite having the minimum required sugar levels, as they need to be harvested a little earlier due to their faster post-harvest development.
This is a factor that plays against their consumption. Not to mention that large retail chains haven’t yet opened all their stone fruit lines. Everything is expected to change from this month on when the summer comes and brings the necessary heat to boost the sales.
The biggest decrease in production will be noticeable in apricots, which will drop around 50%, and 25-30% for nectarines compared to a normal year.
Sicily entered the middle of the open field apricot campaign around 15 May, preceded by small quantities from cultivation under glass. The best quality varieties with excellent texture and appearance are priced at the producer at € 0.50 to € 0.80 per kg.
The apricot campaign will continue until the second ten days of August. As far as peaches and nectarines are concerned, small volumes have already been harvested in May, while the early varieties in the open field started a few days ago. The late varieties will be harvested next, with the last harvests taking place in early October.
In Calabria, on the plains of Sibari, apricots such as Tsunami and Pricia are currently being harvested. In a week’s time, there will be a switch to Orange Rubis.
The early fruit season has been disappointing, especially in terms of flavour. Quantities are still limited at the moment, but from the beginning of June onwards, higher volumes and good sales are expected. Apricots are destined for Germany and Austria, primarily in the form of organic products.
The commercial campaign for peaches and nectarines began at the end of May and will end, as usual, at the end of September. Despite some slight damage due to the aforementioned frosts, production forecasts indicate increasing volumes for the 2021 season.
In Basilicata, the Ninfa apricot harvest has been completed and the Mogador and Pricia have been harvested. Unfavourable weather conditions in recent months have slightly affected the size of the fruit, as well as delaying ripening by 10-12 days.
Flariba nectarines and Plagold peaches are also being harvested, both with an average size of around 17.5 mm. However, quality and flavour are still guaranteed and the high temperatures at the moment will allow the fruit to ripen more quickly and therefore provide greater volumes.
In Apulia, in the area between San Ferdinando di Puglia and Trinitapoli, the harvest of Patagonia nectarines has started. The sizes seem to be smaller than expected, but the fruit is currently fetching higher prices than last year.
In a fortnight’ time, the Nectaprima nectarine campaign will begin, followed by other varieties of peaches and Mogador apricots. The quality and sizes are currently adequate.
In Campania, quantities are reduced for the second year running. One cooperative estimates a drop in volumes of around 30% for peaches and nectarines and 50% for apricots.
The harvested product has good quality and the sizes are mainly medium. Despite the lack of produce, the market is not absorbing volumes as well as expected. As a result, quotations are not particularly brilliant.
In northern Italy, between the end of May and the beginning of June, the market trend for apricots was strange. A producer says that at the auction, after a promising start, there was a slowdown in prices, which dropped a lot, to around 1 Euro/kg for the lowest quality product, and 1.5 Euro/kg on average considering even the best apricots.
An auctioneer says that prices will probably rise again in the coming days. Another fruit grower from Emilia Romagna says that at the Bologna market, prices for early apricots have been between 1.20 and 2 Euro/kg depending on the quality and variety. The peach and nectarine campaigns are about ten days late, with harvesting starting in mid-June.
The seasons for flat peaches, peaches and apricots started around five weeks ago with greenhouse products, with the open field season having started about two to three weeks ago.
The varieties are changing very fast, Turkey is at the end of the early variety season, but will be passing into mid varieties probably next week. Currently the price for nectarines is hovering around 1.25 – 1.35 EUR/kg FOB.
For flat peaches prices are around 1,28-1,38 EUR/kg FOB, while apricots have prices around 1,15 – 1,58 EUR/kg FOB depending on the variety. For apricots, the renowned Sugar apricot starts next week, which signals that we are in the mid-season. These Sugar apricots have a high brix of 20+ and good colouring as well.
Demand for stone fruits is on a normal level, nothing out of the ordinary. However, the fact that Greece is lacking the volumes to export has increased demand from the European region somewhat. Turkish volumes of the stone fruits are on par with the usual level.
Local stone fruit orchards are in their winter rest period, with stone fruit is currently imported from Spain. According to an importer, local demand is strong and prices are expected to be higher than usual because of a lower Spanish crop.
A retailer notes: “Our import season of nectarines is about to start. We only import from Spain due to phytosanitary, logistic and costing reasons. Demand is good and increases every year due to the work we do with our Spanish suppliers to improve quality and packaging systems.”
The average price for peaches is R12.51 (0.74 euros) at the moment on the local market.
The past stone fruit season was a complicated one: quality, sizing and volume were outstanding, packouts were high, but on the demand side in Europe and elsewhere demand was “pathetic”, according to a major stone fruit exporter, a real disappointment.
The closure of wholesale markets and an oversupply affected the market. Back in February two vessels arrived simultaneously due to delays and in the UK the plum market crashed.
This seasons’ nectarines have now reached the market, but have found it in poor condition price-wise. Some fruit farmers said that the purchase price of nectarines fell to 0.3-0.4 RMB/500gram, which is not enough to hire workers to pick them.
Because nectarine normally arrives on the market earlier than other stone fruits, with relatively stable output, and the price in previous years has also tended to be favourable, many growers started planting nectarines, and the output has soared in recent seasons.
In early May, a few early varieties entered the market with good prices. But in the middle of the month, large volumes entered the market, which drove the price down considerably. One of the reasons for the poor prices is, at the moment, that
there are many varieties of fruit available, which reduces the consumption of apricot.
On the West Coast, the production of California peaches and nectarines is increasing. One wholesaler based in Toronto, Canada, notes that the sizing is off this year.
“It’s probably a combination of varying temperatures and the heavier load being left on the trees in some cases. With the labor and the water issues, I don’t think they have the ability to thin the trees the way they wanted to.” That said, the fruit is eating well given the high temperatures in the growing season brought out good sugars.
They also add that supplies of early season varieties are slimmer. “The yields on these early June varieties are not great. Growers are pulling them and not replacing them.”
While there used to be a school of thought that earlier varieties would mean getting to the market earlier and do well, economically that’s not proving as viable.
In the East, a grower in South Carolina, US, notes that peaches from South Carolina and Georgia are seeing a good crop. “It’s a pretty big crop for a change compared to the last couple of years. It’s been a good growing season and we escaped any frost damage. The last two years that has been an issue.” New Jersey will also start with peaches in the second or third week of July.
Back in California, peach supplies are steady, nectarine volumes are building and will soon move out of the early varieties such as Zee Fire and into proprietary varieties such as Honey Blaze so the fruit will come on in larger sizes and eliminate some of the smaller fruit.
Sizing is also of note. There is a lack of big fruit sizes this season and there is too much small fruit in many areas. While demand is good for stone fruit, last year stone fruit growers participated in U.S. government boxed food programs.
In South Carolina, a grower mentions the color is good but sizing has been smaller. “After next week, sizing should be excellent for the remainder of the year.”
They also note that demand is good for peaches this year, with average pricing. “Last year there was only about 40-50 percent of a crop. This year there’s 90 percent of a crop so supply is more even with demand.”
This is leaving pricing high on big fruit which is slowing retail demand. But overall prices are average to better-than-average. “The smaller fruit has gotten cheap, particularly peaches. Nectarines not as much,” the growers from South Carolina says. “But the yellow peaches and white peaches on small sizes–70s, 80s even 60s now–there’s pressure on the market.”
The Australian stone fruit season runs from October to May. There were some challenges for the Australian industry this season, mainly caused by the worker shortage problem that was brought about by COVID-19 border closures.
The Australian government has closed the border to non-residents, and many farms across Australia rely on seasonal workers and backpackers. Without access to labour, the price of fruit has slightly increased due to the shorter supply and additional costs from farmers, and in some cases not all the crop was able to be harvested.
Also, late in the season, small volumes of stone fruit had to be removed from major supermarkets in South Australia after fruit fly larvae was found in the produce. The affected fruit, including nectarines and peaches, came from Victoria.
Generally, growers were reporting good quality, despite the disruptions and uncertainty created by the pandemic.