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Quality, size key for prune growers

Gone are the days when California was the dominant world prune supplier with a market share of over 70 percent. Orchard removal and inclement weather have reduced California’s market share to about 50 percent in a normal year. Meanwhile, France, which has historically been the No. 2 producer, has been surpassed by Chile with Argentina right behind. World prune production is expected to increase by 30 percent over the next five years due primarily to South American expansion.

Aggressive planting by both Chile and Argentina has led to prune surpluses that have threatened California’s exports which account for about 50 percent of total industry sales annually. Chile and Argentina each sell only about 5 percent of their crops in their domestic markets, leaving the export market as the outlet for their incremental prune production. Unfortunately, Chile and Argentina don’t use marketing support to expand export markets as California does; they employ low pricing to steal market share from California and France.

It has recently been reported that Argentine prune growers have refused to deliver as much as 25 percent of their crop due to a lack of exporter demand. The result has been fruit being sold on consignment for whatever the grower can get with the rest being stored until the quality of the predominately small, sun‐dried fruit deteriorates to the point where it has no value.

Excellent quality, large size fruit will be the key to profitability for California growers. This must be supported by food safety programs and export marketing campaigns that can convince international buyers that California prunes are worth their premium prices.

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