State - INACTIVE

Late stone fruit should catch up later in summer

If you love fruit, take heart: Good things come to those who wait.

The cool, damp spring has slowed the ripening of peaches, apricots and other San Joaquin Valley crops.

Some of them, notably cherries, could be substantially reduced in volume because of the weather, but others could make it through OK.

"Everything has been delayed," Mireya Ramos, a vendor at the Modesto Certified Farmers Market, said Thursday. "We usually have all of this in May, and this is the first week we've brought in peaches, pluots and nectarines."

Better late than never, if you ask Lisa Lemons of Modesto. Her purchases at the market included apricots and pluots, a plum-apricot cross.

"So far, what I've tasted is pretty good," she said.

May passed without a single day in the 90s, a rare feat. Today, five days into June, is forecast to be the first time the milestone is reached.

Last month also brought several days with light to moderate rain, but farmers got lucky. The storms were not followed by heat spikes, which can promote pests and diseases in the fruit.

"At this point, it's looking like the weather hasn't had a dramatic

impact," said Bill Ferreira, president of the Apricot Producers of California, based in Turlock.

Stanislaus County is the nation's top producer of this fruit, celebrated this weekend at the 40th annual Patterson Apricot Fiesta.

Industry representatives said apricots and other stone fruits are a week or two behind. That extra time on the tree can mean a larger size for each piece, according to the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Farmers in general welcome the rain, which has boosted water supplies after three years of drought. And even if the storms are ill-timed, growers can spray chemicals to control pests and diseases that thrive in moist conditions.

The early fruit might have slightly reduced sugar levels, said Joe Traina, a grower and co-owner of the Fruit Yard restaurant and produce market east of Modesto.

"But I believe that as summer progresses, everything will catch up and fall back in line," he said.

Despite its many produce stands and farmers markets, the Modesto area is better-known for its canned products, mainly peaches and tomatoes. The canneries will start running later this month, and the managers hope for steady ripening of each variety so they can keep the lines running smoothly.

The spring weather also has delayed almonds, the area's biggest tree crop, but the statewide harvest is still projected to be the second- largest on record.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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