Agriculture

Apricot industry endures in Patterson area

Apricot harvest in Patterson

This year’s crop tops 2015 but is way down from industry’s peak. (Andy Alfaro/aalfaro@modbee.com)
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This year’s crop tops 2015 but is way down from industry’s peak. (Andy Alfaro/aalfaro@modbee.com)

Apricots, the fruit that inspired this weekend’s big festival in Patterson, look to be having a decent 2016.

The state’s crop, mainly on the West Side of Stanislaus County, will likely come in at 50,000 to 55,000 tons, said Bill Ferreira, president of Apricot Producers of California, based in Turlock. That is up from about 45,000 tons last year but far from the 324,000 at the peak in 1944.

Growers this year are getting $625 per ton from processors, one of the highest rates in recent years, thanks in part to orchard removals that reduced the volume.

“Supply and demand have pretty much come into balance,” said Dave Santos, co-owner of Lucich-Santos Farms, near Patterson. “In fact, there probably is more demand than there is supply.”

His workforce peaks at about 200 people in the orchards and 160 in the packing plant during a season that this year will run from April 24 to about mid-June.

That need for hand labor has been one of the challenges for apricot growers, who might be tempted to switch to almonds because the harvest is done by machine.

Santos sells some of his apricots fresh under the Blossom Hill label and others for canning, freezing and drying. The canning is done at Del Monte Foods in Modesto, which also does peaches, pears and fruit cocktail.

Other growers send cannery apricots to Seneca Foods in Modesto or Pacific Coast Producers in Lodi. Together with Del Monte, the plants employ several thousand people each summer.

The Patterson area has been a major apricot producer since about 1950, taking over from the Santa Clara Valley, where the orchards gave way to development. The West Side city bills itself as the Apricot Capitol of the World.

Ferreira said the 2016 fruit “looks very good, with good sizing.” Fans can taste it for themselves this weekend at the Patterson Apricot Fiesta, which draws thousands of people for a parade, music, pie-eating contest and more.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

Patterson Apricot Fiesta

The 46th annual event started Friday and will continue well into Sunday in downtown Patterson. Some highlights:

Saturday: 9 a.m. to dusk, including booths, games, music, the 10 a.m. parade and evening fireworks.

Sunday: Mostly from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., including booths, games, music and the 2:15 p.m. apricot pie-eating contest. Breakfast will be served from 7 a.m. to noon.

More information is at 209-892-3118 or www.apricotfiesta.com.

Did you know?

▪  Three fresh apricots provide 45 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A and 20 percent of vitamin C.

▪  Canned apricots also are a good source of these nutrients.

▪  Apricot trees are part of the rose family, which also includes apples, peaches, pears, plums, cherries, strawberries and almonds.

▪  Apricots are native to China, where cultivation started about 4,000 years ago.

▪  Spanish missionaries brought the first apricot trees to California in the 1700s.

▪  Today, Stanislaus County accounts for about two-thirds of the state’s harvest. The county’s growers got an estimated $30.5 million in gross income in 2014.

▪  California grows about 85 percent of the U.S. crop.

Sources: Apricot Producers of California, county crop reports

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