Inspectors keep watch these summer days to help assure that canned peach consumers will get what they pay for.
The largest such operation in the Central Valley is the Moffett station, just east of Ceres. It will receive about 20,000 tons of just-picked peaches during the July-to-September harvest.
The fruit is sampled for size and defects by employees of Cooperative Agriculture Support Services, a federal-state program. It then goes to the Pacific Coast Producers cannery in Lodi.
Trucks typically arrive at the station with 24 or 48 bins of peaches. A commodity inspector uses a number-generating system to randomly select sample bins.
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A machine extracts a 50-pound sample, which is examined by an inspector to determine how much is off-grade, meaning it does not meet the standards. The flaws can include brown rot, pecks from birds, under-ripe flesh or small size, all of which can reduce the price the grower gets.
"So far, quality's been good; the fruit has been really clean and bigger than last year," said Brian Noeller, district manager
with Pacific Coast Producers. "For us, that means we can put them in packs that will bring back some more dollars."
The Whitmore Avenue site is leased from Superior Fruit Co., which has farmed there for more than a century.
Similar stations handle peaches bound for the Modesto canneries operated by Del Monte Foods and Seneca Foods. The city has been a center of canned peach production for decades, though it has diminished since the 1970s.
Because of the cool, wet spring, the 2010 peach crop is running about 10 days behind last year.
There are 4,585 acres of peaches planted in Merced County, according to the 2009 Merced County agriculture report.
The state's orchards will produce an estimated 410,000 tons this year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
That's down about 12 percent from last year, which had high yields per acre. The industry also has removed some orchards to better match supply with demand.
The price per ton has increased in the past few years, but the 2010 rate has not yet been negotiated.
The canned peach crop is separate from the fresh- market fruit, which mainly comes from the Fresno- Visalia area and draws much higher prices per ton.