Heavy demand, tight supplies for early lemons

10/24/2013 04:02:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Tight supplies of lemons during the summer led to strong markets and heavy demand that should continue through fall and into winter, grower-shippers say.

“We have some good scenarios coming up with our crop,” said Alex Teague, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Limoneira Co., Santa Paula, Calif.

“We have a marketplace that’s much more free of fruit,” he said, because of weather problems in Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

Up to 40% of Argentina’s lemon trees have been damaged, he said, adding that it could take 18 months or more for the country’s lemon crop to recover.

Prices were $3-4 per box higher than last year, he said.

“We’re encouraged by that,” Teague said. “The pricing we experienced last winter was a loser for everybody.”

Tight lemon supplies persisted as harvesting started in the California desert and in Arizona, said Jeff Olsen, president of Chuck Olsen Co., Visalia, Calif.

“The pipeline is nearly empty,” he said in early October. “It will take a couple of months to be in balance.”

Most years, growers store some District 2 fruit from California’s coastal growing region for summer and into October, but that wasn’t the case this year.

“The fruit was so mature that we picked and packed and shipped a lot of fruit quicker than normal,” Olsen said.

Heavy Chilean volume that typically hits the market in June, July and August also failed to materialize, he said.

Wet weather delayed the start of the Mexican crop until the last week of September, but those shipments should be picking up, Olsen said.

Monsoon conditions and high humidity in the California desert and Arizona growing regions made it difficult for the fruit to dry out and resulted in a late start.

“It’s been a real struggle,” Olsen said.

Conditions are similar for organic lemons.

“We walked into an organic lemon market that’s been pretty dry, quickly absorbing what supplies are becoming available,” said John Stair, domestic commodity manager for Pacific Organic Produce, San Francisco.

Initial volume comes off slow, he said, but supplies should pick up, which is good, because of strong demand.

The company plans to pack organic lemons from the desert through February, he said.

Quality and sizing seem to have improved over last season. In fact, he said organic lemons look to be a half to a full size larger than last year.

Sizing on Limoneira’s lemons out of the desert should be pretty good, Teague said.

Most growers will have slightly larger desert crops compared to last year, he said, though Limoneira may be down a bit because the company had a large crop last year.

Less desert wind than last year should mean more first-grade fruit this season, he said.

Although the Yuma, Ariz., area starts producing a few weeks earlier than Coachella, Calif., Coachella produces up to 5% more fruit than Yuma, Teague said.

Arizona’s growing conditions can be harsh, he added.

“The raw product itself is good — a very heavy, juicy piece of fruit with a thin skin, highly sought in the Asian and sub-Asian export markets.”

Limoneira expects good results from foodservice, retail and export deals this season.

Teague expects to see “balanced supply and good pricing, and so I think both sides of the equation will make decent money.”

Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers Inc. will help consumers — and retailers — celebrate the holidays with a selection of conventional, organic, meyer and seedless lemons, said Joan Wickham, manager of advertising and public relations.

They’re packaged in bright pouch and net bags, she said.



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