Production Challenges and Opportunities for California Prune Growers

Brian German Fruits & Vegetables, Industry


California prune growers anticipate new production opportunities as the UC Davis Prune Breeding Program announced its latest cultivars have the potential to extend the production season. Program Manager Sarah Castro said that varieties including the patented UC Yolo Gold and J2N cultivars will support farmers through difficult periods like crop failure.

“Sometimes there can be crop failures when we don’t have the right pollination during the right time of year,” Castro said. “If we had two different cultivars, this could really reduce our risk as an industry to avoid crop failures in the future.”

The J2N and UC Yolo Gold varieties bloom before Improved French. The varieties are also harvested after Improved French, extending the length of harvest by at least two weeks and potentially enhancing yields and diversifying crop production.  

The UC Davis Prune Breeding Program works closely with industry processors like Mariani and Sunsweet. Castro said that diversifying varieties will lessen the risk of an unprofitable year and open up opportunities for processors to increase production by mixing other dried prune cultivars with the Improved French prune, the most common variety.

California prune growers “are at the whim of their processors in regard to what prunes they can grow and process,” Castro said; and as such, “the industry is still testing to see how accepted Yolo Gold might be with the processors.”

While processors are “cooperative” with the tests led by the Prune Breeding Program, large quantities of fruit need to run through processing plants to determine whether that variety would be successful in the industry.

Additionally, the California Prune Board is subsidizing research and testing of products “so that the growers aren’t financially going out on a limb,” Castro said. “They make sure that whatever we come out with, that any typical commercial grower would be able to pick it up and run with it because the processors would already be prepared.”

With the UC Yolo Gold variety patented, California prune growers have an advantage over foreign competitors because it protects the cultivar from being distributed around the world for the next five years. International competitors will have delayed access to growing a gourmet product while California prune growers who have invested in the program at UC Davis will “hit the ground running,” Castro said. “They’ve been paying for this program since the ‘80s and they deserve to reap the benefits and take advantage of the great things that we have for them,” she noted.

Contributing Author:
Lauren McEwen
AgNet West Intern