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Prune Farming

A California farmer talks about the plums-to-prunes process.

The state of California produces 99% of the nation’s prunes, which start out as plums. While all prunes are plums, not all plums can be dried into prunes.

Joe Turkovich is the chairman of the California Prune (Dried Plum) Board, and is also a full-time prune farmer on 220-acres in Winters, California. He produces for Sunsweet Growers, a grower-owned and operated cooperative. 

It takes prune trees about five-months to go from flowering to harvest. While most farmers try to get the biggest yield from a crop as they can, this is not the case with plums grown for prunes. He says in their business, more is not better.

"If a crop is too heavy, we will take fruit off, we do that mechanically these days," says Turkovich. "They’ll shake the tree and try to get a number of fruit on the tree that can be sized because the real name of the game in prune production is to get large, sweet fruit. Your highest quality comes from big fruit, so you can’t over-crop. If you do, you’re in trouble."

At harvest time, mechanical harvesters shake the fruit off the tree into bins, and then it goes through conveyors that blow off leaves and debris.

One-hundred-years ago for a plum to become a prune the fruit was set outside on trays to dry in the sun. Today it’s sent to a dehydrator.

"Which are these central locations that are like big convection ovens," he says. "They get placed on wooden trays, stacked up, and they roll through over an 18-hour period through these big dryer tunnels. They come out on the back end, and they weigh 1/3 their weight that they did going in."

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