DUNDEE, Fla. — Buyers should expect fewer navels but bigger volumes of grapefruit and tangerines as Florida’s early season shipments move to larger volumes.

The season is also bringing smaller-sized fruit, grower-shippers say.

Grower-shippers began harvesting in late September and early October, about a week earlier than normal.

Florida opens fall citrus season with fewer navelsAccording to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Oct. 11 initial season forecast, Florida is expected to produce 2.2 million equivalent cartons of navels, 17% fewer than last year.

Despite the predicted smaller volume, grower-shippers say retailers should see adequate volume of Florida navels and other oranges for winter promotions.

Additionally, navels could finish earlier than normal, said Matt Reel, director of sales for Vero Beach-based IMG Citrus Inc.

“We will see lighter volumes in late December and early January than we usually do,” Reel said in early November. “That’s because of the lower acid levels in the fruit. Primary Florida volume finishes by the end of December, but we will see a lot of shippers finish earlier. With the lower acid in the fruit, they won’t hold on to the tree as long.”

Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for Florida Classic Growers, the marketing arm of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association, said some early October rain slowed harvesting, but the season was well underway by late October.

He said retailers should do well with bag promotions.

“From the feedback from our retailers, they are extremely pleased with the eating quality of the fruit,” Finch said in late October. “This has translated into their sales at store level. As we move further into November, lots of promotions have been established with major retail groups in the U.S. and Canada on bagged navels and tangerines and bulk grapefruit.”

Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, began harvesting light volumes of grapefruit in late September but bumped up production by mid-October.

In late October, Dave Brocksmith, Seald Sweet’s Florida program manager, said the entire industry was in promotable volume.

He said the bigger volume should help promote bag sales.

“The grapefruit production forecast is basically unchanged but we will see more fresh-packed grapefruit in the market this year because processors aren’t paying such a high price this year,” Brocksmith said. “That is putting more grapefruit in the fresh marketplace and less in processing. It has taken some competitive pressures off supplies.”

Last year saw a truncated grapefruit season, which ended in mid-March.

Typically, Florida grapefruit runs through May.

On tangerines, Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, said quality was high.

“For the most part, quality-wise, we have had one of our best fallglo tangerine years I can ever remember in terms of quality and arrivals,” he said. “It’s very encouraging the way the season is turning out. We want to continue this momentum.”

Swords said volume isn’t significantly up or down to affect promotions, and the year could be one where retailers could promote smaller sizes vs. larger sizes like last year on certain varieties. Even though navel production is expected to be down a little, we still will have promotable volume.”

Noble World Wide, Winter Haven, finished harvesting early season fallglo tangerines on Oct. 19 and began packing sunburst tangerines on Oct. 22.

Quentin Roe, president, said sunburst quality is strong.

“They are just stunning,” he said in late October. “The fruit is coloring up nicely and brix is building.”

After hot temperatures and heavy rains brought an unfavorable start in September and October, Roe said the weather patterns changed and are bringing improved quality fruit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in early November reported these prices for 4/5-bushel cartons of U.S. No. 1 Florida navels in Boston: $22 for 36s, 40s, 48s and 80s; $20-21 for 56s and $20 for 64s.

Last year in early November, the USDA reported those same cartons of navels in Boston selling for $20 for 40s, $20-21 for 48s, 56s, 64s and 80s and $16 for 125s.