Stone fruit planting slows
California growers are cautious about planting stone fruits, though cherry and pear tree sales are still healthy.
Dennis Tarry and Robert Woolley of Dave Wilson Nursery report there is little interest from growers in replanting or new plantings of peaches, plums, or nectarines.
Plantings of stone fruit trees have significantly slowed down, several California-based commercial nurseries reported during telephone interviews with the Good Fruit Grower magazine. Nursery representatives cited tough economic times, poor grower returns, uncertain and restricted water supplies, and soaring costs for tree establishment as the reasons for the slowdown.
Dennis Tarry of Dave Wilson Nursery, headquartered in Hickman, California, describes planting of peaches, nectarines, and plums in California as being in a "cautious" mode. Poor grower returns from stone fruit have tempered any enthusiasm in the industry, resulting in a decline in interest in any new plantings. "Water concerns have aggravated what little interest there is in planting," he said. "California growers are facing environmental and economic conditions that are preventing them from doing what they normally do," Tarry said, adding that growers usually have some of their acreage in renewal to keep their varieties current and updated. Instead of replanting new varieties, some growers are planting an annual crop as they watch the market and wait.
Nancy Fowler Johnson of Fowler Nursery also reports a slowdown and softening in stone fruit tree sales. "Stone fruit sales for us have changed significantly, but then we're not as big a player in stone fruit as some of the other nurseries."
Tom Burchell of Burchell Nursery also reports slowed stone fruit sales and plantings, even in the area of new varieties of peaches, plums, and nectarines. "Input costs keep going up for orchardists," he said, adding that he doesn't expect to see improvement in tree sales until growers can figure out how to control the rising costs involved with bringing new trees into production.
He notes that some researchers are studying dwarfing rootstocks and tree training methods that reduce the amount of pruning required and use mechanical topping to keep tree height down and lessen the need for ladders. However, most growers have yet to bring down their input costs.
"There's always an ebb and flow in the nursery business," Tarry said. "We're all trying to use the magic ball and figure out when things will pick up and what the hot varieties will be for the future."
Although California growers have greatly reduced planting of peaches, nectarines, and plums, the same planting trend does not carry over to cherries.
Tarry has been pleasantly surprised with their cherry sales in 2008—they moved all of their cherry inventory this past year.
Burchell described cherry tree sales as "still positive and going forward," though he noted that sales are not as brisk as several years ago. The Oakdale, California, nursery representative said that acreage expansion in the southern San Joaquin Valley has slowed due to limited water availability. "We've even had some tree orders [almonds] on the west side of the valley cancelled because of water restrictions."
Fowler Johnson reports strong interest in cherry trees and rootstock, particularly Gisela rootstocks. There's also new interest in the Krmysk rootstocks. "Things are still gung ho with cherry producers," she said. "We're not seeing a slowing of cherry sales, yet."
Fowler Nursery is among the nation's largest supplier of Asian and European pear trees.
"For pears, we can't seem to grow enough rootstock and scion combinations," said Fowler Johnson. "Everything is sold before we bud it. We're already sold out through 2010 in both Asian and European pear trees," she said, but added that they are only growing what the market will bear.
Fowler Johnson is bullish on the pear tree sales. At Fowler, they still work with Old Home by Farmingdale 69 rootstock, which has recently found a renewed following by growers due to research at the University of California showing good productivity.