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Coral Champagne is still a popular variety for new plantings in California.

Coral Champagne is still a popular variety for new plantings in California.

California tree fruit nurseries are as busy as ever. For apple tree sales, there seems to be no slowdown in the buying boom yet, though cherry sales are stabilizing. Acreage downsizing has occurred in the soft fruit industry, which some believe will better position growers in the near future.

“It’s been a crazy market,” said Alison Clegg, sales representative for ProTree Nursery in Brentwood, California. “Growers are still buying apple trees. We keep asking ‘when will it end?’”

Sales of cherry trees have slowed down in recent months, she said, likely a reflection of the mediocre to light cherry crops last year and this year. “That’s probably dampened the interest in more cherry acreage.”

But apples sales are brisk. “We’re selling everything we grow and we’re maxed out on what we can grow,” Clegg said. Honeycrisp and Gala varieties continue to be the apples most in demand by growers. “Those two have just about been our whole market.”

Demand has been good for the new Geneva rootstocks, she said, adding that although they don’t do a lot of Geneva rootstocks, they could sell more if they had them. The Geneva rootstock series, developed through a joint breeding program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cornell University, are bred to be resistant to a variety of North American apple maladies, such as fire blight, phytophthora, woolly apple aphid, and replant disease while still being dwarfing or semidwarfing in size.

Clegg told Good Fruit Grower that popular cherry varieties in California have been Coral Champagne, Rainier, and the Pearl series from Cornell University. Lapins has been popular with Washington growers.

Dale McHaley, stone fruit specialist at the Reedley, California, office for Dave Wilson Nursery, also has seen a stabilizing of cherry tree sales. Cherry tree sales are a little weak in the southern San Joaquin Valley but stable in the northern end of the valley.

“Some growers are planting almonds where fruit trees were, which makes room for someone else to add more stone fruit acreage,” McHaley said in an e-mail to Good Fruit Grower. “It’s a good give-and-take situation.”

Nut crops like almonds have been extremely popular in California because grower returns have been at record prices and the crop can be mechanically harvested. The National Agricultural Statistics Service recently estimated that California almond acreage in 2013 was at an all-time record of 940,000 acres. Of the total acreage, 100,000 acres are estimated to be nonbearing. In 2010, almond acreage was estimated at 825,000 acres.

McHaley, too, believes the two short cherry crops in a row have slowed down interest in more cherries.

At Dave Wilson Nursery, a couple of cherry variety favorites of growers have been Royal Lynn and Royal Tioga, both low-chill varieties.

Royal Lynn is a new, very early cherry, ripening in early to mid-May in the Fresno region. Fruit are medium-large in size, mahogany red colored, and firm with long stems. Royal Lynn is not prone to cracks, spurs, or doubles, according to McHaley, and requires 500 chilling hours.

Royal Tioga has been popular because of its good size, early harvest, sweet flavor, and self fertility, he said.

Stone fruit trends

Planting trends in stone fruit have been yellow and white fleshed for peaches and nectarines, with slightly higher sales of yellow-fleshed nectarines, McHaley said.

Growers are especially interested in red-fleshed pluots, like Festival Red, Crimson Rose, Ebony Rose, and Honey Punch, he said. Late-season apricots that pick into the middle of August have also been popular.

The trend of planting low-acid nectarine varieties has been growing. Zaiger Genetics, the breeder of varieties sold by Dave Wilson Nursery, has released nine yellow-fleshed, low-acid nectarine varieties under the Honey name, like Honey Haven, Honey Kist, and Honey May. Some are freestone varieties, some clingstone.

In looking toward the short-term future, McHaley believes the next five years will be strong for stone fruit growers. “With almond taking up what was tree fruit ground, marketing for a grower profit will be easier,” he said. “Labor issues are always a concern, but with better prices, labor should be manageable.”