Good flavor, size expected for California navelsCalifornia navel shippers and officials are reporting excellent flavor and size at the beginning of the deal.

About 88 million cartons of California navels are expected to ship this season, about 2% less than last season, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

Harvest started in a small way for some growers the week of Oct. 7, Blakely said, and the early reports were positive.

“We’re very optimistic about the crop,” he said. “The fruit size is good, and it’s maturing quite nicely.”

Early tests indicated good sugar levels and eating quality, Blakely said.

At the beginning of some California navel seasons, fruit is slow to get up to industry-imposed brix standards, said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Orange Cove, Calif.-based Booth Ranches.

That won’t be the case in 2013-14.

“All indications are flavor is not going to be an issue this year,” Galone said Oct. 11. “This is a year where you wait on color, and whenever you wait on color, the flavor just gets better and better.”

Booth Ranches expects to be shipping some fruit by the end of October, with good volumes expected by the second week of November, Galone said.

“There will be plenty of fruit for Thanksgiving.”

Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif., expects to begin picking Oct. 15-17, with substantial packing getting under way the week of Oct. 28, Randy Jacobsen, sales manager.

Volumes for Cecelia Packing should be comparable to last season, Jacobsen said.

“There’s no doubt there’s less fruit on the tree, but it will definitely make up for it in size,” he said. “The sugar tests are pretty good for this time of year. We’re pretty optimistic.”

Galone expected fruit to peak on 56s and 72s this season. Blakely said that will be welcome after two seasons in which fruit was on the small side.

“It’s the range we like to see,” he said.

Booth Ranches thinks the industry estimate could wind up being slightly on the high side, Galone said.

“We were a little surprised by it, but there will still be plenty of good fruit out there.”

One issue this season could be labor, Blakely said. Some growers who began picking the week of Oct. 7 found themselves short of workers. Grapes, almonds and late-season valencias were among the other crops that were pulling workers away from navels.

“There’s big demand now for harvest crews,” Blakely said.

Jacobsen said labor shortages could affect the harvest of this year’s navel crop.

“It was an issue all summer, and we want to believe it will ease some, but it’s an ongoing concern,” he said.