New wrinkle in marketing of prunes

FRESNO, Calif.

The shakedown was violent and effective. The shaker and receiver seemed to be stalking the French plum trees growing in an orchard in Burrel in western Fresno County. Harvest was performed with the same powerful machines used to collect pistachios. But Caruthers area grower Matt Efird noticed this year's plum production is way off.

Efird explained, "The factors behind it primarily attributed to that the dry winter that we had and some of the increased temperatures during bloom and so with the poor bloom came the poor fruit set."

Efird grows 160 acres of plums which will be sold on the dried fruit market but he's never seen so little fruit come off the trees. "Up and down the state it's pretty consistent. I think this may be a little more severe. We're looking at 75% off of an average crop for us."

The plums were destined for a Madera dehydrator where natural gas dryers will give them that familiar wrinkled shape. They used to be known only as prunes. But now those in the industry prefer to refer them to as dried plums. Efird's plums are sold under the Sunsweet label. The change in marketing strategy has been a success.

Efird said, "Especially for the younger generation it's getting away from the stereotype that that's for grandpa and grandma. It's actually a super fruit and healthy for you."

The fruit was sized right there in the orchard. Plums which were too small fall through the sorter and onto the ground.

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