Grower-packer-shippers encouraged by fall citrus crop

07/31/2012 05:33:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

LINDSAY, CALIF. ― A warm spring, followed by a relatively mild summer, has set the stage for what grower-packer-shippers say will be a quality fall citrus crop with good sizes and manageable volumes.

How large the 2012-13 navel orange crop is remains unknown, although casual surveys in late July indicated at least adequate fruit set.

Tom Clark, Lobue Citrus, inspects valencia oranges.Vicky BoydTom Clark, operations manager for LoBue Citrus, Lindsay, Calif., inspects a bin of valencia oranges before they’re packed. Industrywide, valencias comprise a much smaller volume than navels.“With June drop behind us, we should start hearing some type of guesstimates shortly,” said Aron Gularte, a salesman with Visalia Produce Sales Inc., Kingsburg. “It looks like there’s plenty of fruit out there at this point.”

Bob DiPiazza, president of Pasadena-based Sun Pacific Marketing, agreed and pointed out that the June drop was a bit less than last year.

“So we’re expecting a nice crop to market this year,” he said. “Everything in the field indicates we should have a good size and good quality crop with good sizing.”

Robert LoBue, farm manager and co-owner of LoBue Citrus, Lindsay, said the warm spring promoted increased cell division within the navel fruit, setting a strong foundation for good sizing later in the season.

Although unlikely, a serious prolonged heat wave in late summer or an early freeze could affect overall yield or fruit size, Gularte said.

The same holds true for mandarins, said Fred Berry, marketing director of Mulholland Citrus, Orange Cove.

Robert Lobue, Lobue Citrus, checks the quality of the companyVicky BoydRobert LoBue, farm manager and co-owner of LoBue Citrus, Lindsay, Calif., checks the quality of a Heritage Reserve navel. The late-season fruit comes from 50-plus-year-old trees.“We still have weather in front of us the rest of the summer, but I think everyone is reasonably happy with the maturity and how the crop is coming along,” he said in late July.

Mulholland Citrus expects to begin harvesting satsuma mandarins in mid-October, followed by clementine mandarins in early November.

Unlike the past two years that ran 10 days to two weeks late, Berry said he expected this year’s start to be on a more normal schedule.

The 2011-12 California navel season, which runs from about November through May, ended up producing about 88 million 40-pound cartons, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop estimate.

The valencia season ― roughly from February through October ― is projected to finish with about 28 million cartons.

The USDA will release its first citrus crop estimate for the 2012-13 season Oct. 11.

On July 27, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service reported that 7/10 bushels of size 88s, shippers first grade, valencias from California’s south and central districts were running $9.73-$11.75, with mostly $10.73-$11.75.

If the navel crop continues on its current schedule, Gularte said harvest should start between Oct. 15-25, with promotable volumes in time for Thanksgiving.

Sun Pacific Marketing works with individual retailers to customize promotions for navels. But one that has worked well in the past is a high-graphic kraft module that fits on a 40-by-48-inch pallet. Inside is a 2-foot riser that lifts the fruit up, allowing better inventory management on the sales floor, DiPiazza said.

“Bins are very difficult to rotate,” he said.

Sun Pacific Marketing also will continue to work with retailers, in partnership with Paramount Citrus, Delano, to promote Cuties brand mandarins, DiPiazza said.

“Promotions are a regular part of moving that crop, so we depend heavily on our retailers to work with us,” he said.

In addition to in-store displays, Cuties promotions in the past have included nationwide coupons, coupons inserted into packages and television advertising, DiPiazza said.

Mulholland Citrus works with individual retailers on promotions for its Sweetie brand mandarins that may include in-store sampling and promotional pricing, Berry said.

One hurdle the Orange Cove-based grower-packer-shipper has had is meeting demand, although it does have new plantings coming into production.

“From the standpoint of our customer base and customers who would like to do business with us, our challenge is to increase production, which we are,” he said.



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