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After Ramadan, demand for dates outpaces supply

Agronomist Jose Arabs measures soil moisture and collect samples for salinity testing in a new Date tree orchard which is using drip irrigation, on August 10, 2009 in The Coachella Valley, California.
Agronomist Jose Arabs measures soil moisture and collect samples for salinity testing in a new Date tree orchard which is using drip irrigation, on August 10, 2009 in The Coachella Valley, California.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images

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Many Muslims break evening fast during the holy month by eating dates, as the Prophet Mohammed did, but this year they're in short supply for Ramadan. 

Dennis Jensen, president of Sea View Packing, said this year, Ramadan didn't align with the date-harvest season in Fall. The company has 170 acres of medjool date farms in Riverside County but ran out of dates in May. Other growers, like Doug Adair of Pato's Dream Date Gardens told KPCC their small family run farm ran out even earlier—in March. 

Dates are always harvested in September.

Ramadan, on the other hand, changes. It's based on the Islamic lunar calendar, which means it moves around ten days earlier each passing year.

"The trees are on a different calendar, and Ramadan is on a different calendar," Jensen said.

 The company doesn't just sell those dates in Southern California — they also have customers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai, Morocco, and France.

Sea View packs, ships, and sells over a million pounds of medjool dates annually, Jensen said. And they've all been sold at this point. 

"We don’t have a focus right now on sales, that’s for sure," Jensen said, laughing. "We don’t have anything to sell."

Supply and demand aren't the only challenges to date growing in the Coachella Valley. The drought isn't helping things, either. In the desert, Jensen tries to compensate for the lack of rainwater by using drip irrigation systems with water originating from the Colorado River.

"They will last without water for quite a while," he said. "But it certainly hinders the quality of date."

Jensen will start checking on this year's crop for quantity and ripeness in August. After he harvests them in September, many will go into a freezer to preserve ripeness until they are sold. 

He said the tight supply this year hopefully won't impact most who plan to break fast with them during Ramadan, as many customers order in advance.