We get this question a lot from our customers. Why do I have to pay so much per pound for Medjool Dates? It's a good question and rightfully so. If you take a look at what other commercial type fruits cost per pound and compare them with Medjools cost per pound, you will see a significant difference. They don't come close some of the exotic fruits top ten list. I urge you to take a look at this list...truly impressive of what a pair of Buddha shaped pairs sell for. Some of the reasons include availability, popularity, labor and time commitment.
Availability of Medjool Dates
Due to the growing conditions needed to grow premium medjool dates, there is limited areas in which they can be grown. The Phoenix dactylifera (Medjool Palm) needs a very dry climate, but still be able to have a water source that will provide adequate moisture to the base of the ball. This limits the areas in which these luxurious fruit bearing trees can be planted. In the United States the Desert Southwest, Southern California and Northern Mexico are where a majority of Medjool dates are being grown. This limited land mass leads to smaller crops or limited Production. And is in stark contrast to other commercial fruit you are able to pick up at the local grocery store.
The Medjool date is just not as popular and in return just does not have the demand or distribution of other fruits. This also leads to people having to source and purchase outside a retail setting. However, the popularity of medjool dates is showing promise and with companies like Natural Delights, Hadley's and several other well-known date companies we should start to see the demand pick up. This will cause competition to increase and ultimately pricing should start to fall.
This along with time is probably what drives the price of Medjool Dates more than anything. Growers of Medjool dates call it a labor of love due to the intense work that goes into growing Medjool dates. Here is a rough outline of what it takes to cultivate and harvest a medjool date garden:
- De-thorning - each medjool palm grows thrones that if not removed could create a severe danger to the Palmero growers that nurture the fruit.
- Harvesting the pollen - growers will need to harvest the date pollen from male trees and artificially pollinate the females. Only female palms produce fruit, the males produce the pollen. The pollen is laid out flat where it will need to dry - can take up to two days for the drying process.
- Pollinating the female palms - this process usually happens in February and March and is very time intensive. A typical female palm can have up to 25 arms with with fruit strands that contain 15 - 35 fruit strands/flowers. These strands are what carry the date. The outer shell known as the sheath is pulled back to expose the strands, then manually pollinated using the harvested pollen. Each tree in the garden will be visited for the pollinating process.
- Directing the Fruit Arms - if a fruit arm is left to grow naturally, it will increase the chance of the dates being damaged. We don't want the fruit arms tangling up or touching each other. In order to increase production, we direct and train the fruit arms away from other palms to hang freely.
- Date thinning process - this is by far the most tedious part of the growing process. In order to ensure proper air-flow, room to grow, reduce rubbing for skin better quality and minimizing the potential of pest, each strand is carefully thinned. Buds will be removed with no more then 10 - 25 buds on each strand. This process takes weeks to complete based upon the size of the garden.
- Supporting the date branches - the fruit producing arms will start to get extremely heavy due to the weight of the dates. Each arm is tied to another branch to help support the weight.
- Ringing the date cluster - another way to ensure proper air flow and reduce touching is to insert circular rings in the middle of each date cluster. This gives them even more space to grow to their full potential. It will also reduce the likelihood of them rubbing and scarring each other.
- Bagging - birds love dates. One way to protect against flying creatures is to bag the date cluster. Each date cluster will be bagged to protect against pests. The bags will also serve a second purpose and that's to collect falling ripe medjools. When medjools start to ripen they fall off the date clusters with little to no effort.
- Harvesting medjool dates - during the harvesting process the Palmero and their assistants will continually visit each date cluster shaking the bags. The ripened dates fall to the bottom and then a flat 2-3 inch thick tray is placed at the bottom of each bag for collection. Dates are not picked from the date clusters, they are shaken from them. The unripened dates will stay on the vine and given more time to ripen. It can take several visits to properly harvest all the dates.
- Sorting and packaging - a majority of the packing houses still utilize a manual sorting process. Each date is sorted based on moisture, size and visual acceptance. Once sorted, the dates will be packaged and ready for freezer storage or shipped out.
Time and patience
A newly planted medjool pup will not start to produce fruit until 5–8 years. At that age they are only producing around 25 pounds per tree and only 6 to 7 feet tall. From there the more the medjool palm matures, the more fruit it will bear. A 11-13 year old palm can produce around 176 lbs of edible fruit. However, the palm continues to grow in height, so it will eventually grow to a point where it’s no longer safe to properly harvest the dates. Date palms can grow as tall as 100 ft.
Date farmers are constantly planting date palm pups in order to be able to harvest from several years on. A proactive approach in planting new palms is critical in maintaining a thriving date farm. If not, crop yield will eventually decline due to safety issues.
As you can see, the process for growing premium medjool dates are extremely time intensive, environment specific and a labor of love. If you are wanting to find cheaply priced medjool dates, we would recommend for you to check out mixed dates, cooking dates or re-hydrated dates. Think of these as the lower grade medjools, but still provide for a tasty date and won't crush the pocket book.