Warm spring and summer weather that pushed the start of the table grape season and enhanced fruit sugars is expected to have a similar positive effect on fall citrus, say growers, shippers and marketers.

“I always say, the oranges follow the grapes,” said Al Imbimbo, vice president of sales and marketing for Lindsay-based Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co. “The amount of heat units we’ve had over the spring and summer will be conducive to great eating quality and perhaps a little earlier start.”

The valencia season should tail off in October just as the navel season begins.

Growers, shippers and marketers contacted for this article said the navel orange crop looks slightly smaller than last year, when the industry packed 90 million 40-pound cartons, according to a July 11 U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate.

With the smaller volume, they expect larger fruit size.

“Overall the set on the trees is light, and the size structure will be on the larger size,” said Tracy Jones, vice president of domestic sales for Booth Ranches LLC.

The Orange Cove-based grower-shipper projects navels will peak on 72s.

Booth Ranches actually expects to see significant volume increases in a few of its younger blocks of spring navels and Washington varieties as the trees move toward full production, Jones said.

Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co. also expects to see increased volume of its Reserve Citrus line, which it launched at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, Imbimbo said. It includes oro blanco grapefruit, cara cara navels, reserve navels, gold nugget mandarins and seedless lemons.

In addition, Suntreat plans to have additional volumes of Sumo, a large mandarin that has great flavor but is “cosmetically challenged.”

“We’re becoming known for the big mandarins,” he said.

Sherman Oaks-based Sunkist Growers will offer retailers in-pack juicers to encourage consumers to make their own fresh-squeezed orange juice from the tail end of the valencias, Joan Wickham, advertising and public relations manager, wrote in an email.

The citrus marketing cooperative will continue to have lemons year-round packed in 1-pound baby lemon bags or in 2-pound grab-and-go pouches.

Satsuma mandarins, the first of the easy peel varieties, should be available in early October, followed by Clementines, she said.

Sunkist also will have the pink-fleshed cara cara oranges — branded “The Power Orange” because of their added nutritional value — as well as moro oranges in December.


Second season for maturity standard

2012 marked the first season for the new California navel maturity standard, which was developed to better represent consumer eating experiences with early-season fruit.

The previous standard was based solely on a sugar-to-acid ratio, whereas the new standard also incorporates other flavor components.

The standard will be in place again this season without any changes, said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“We think it went very well, and the demand for the product early on was better than it had been in the past,” Nelsen said of last year. “We didn’t get any push-back from the shippers and growers. From an operational standpoint, it seemed to work smoothly.”

When Citrus Mutual initially proposed the new standard, the grower group said it would remain in place for three years, after which time it would be evaluated.

The 2013-14 season will be its second.

“Given all of the heat we’re experiencing, I don’t anticipate any sugar-acid problems,” Nelsen said in late July. “The problem we’re having with as much heat as we’re seeing is the trees kind of shut down, and the fruit doesn’t grow as rapidly in hot weather. That’s a concern.”