Northern California fruit growers face worst slump in years

Peaches are in season.
Peaches are in season. Bill Hogan / Chicago Tribune / MCT

Central California's San Joaquin Valley tree fruit growers — known nationwide for producing prized peaches, plums and nectarines — are facing some of the toughest times in their history.

A weak economy, fierce competition, low prices and quality problems have made it impossible for some to keep going.

Several longtime fruit packinghouses shut down this year, including George Brothers in the Dinuba area, and Ito Packing and Ballantine in Reedley. Just last month, Fresno-based Z & S Fresh abruptly closed.

"I don't think any of us has ever seen the economy in this type of shape," said Sheri Mierau, president of the Reedley-based California Tree Fruit Agreement, an industry group. "We are all having to learn how to survive in this new world."

The stakes are high. In Fresno County alone, the crop was valued at nearly $500 million in 2008.

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