Citrus estimates for the U.S. are down from December numbers, according to the Jan. 11 U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast.
The total U.S. production estimate for tangerines has dropped about 3% since December. Oranges are down roughly 5% so far.
click image to zoomCalifornia Citrus MutualBob Blakey, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, says damage from low temperatures in early December is worse in Kern County, where groves have fewer wind machines.
Florida’s numbers are down as well, largely because of citrus greening, according to suppliers. USDA numbers show a reduction of about 14% for oranges this season compared with last year.
Still, the season is going well so far, said Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for Florida Classic Growers, the marketing arm of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association.
He acknowledged some weather worries in January.
“The temperatures came out OK in central Florida. We had some windy conditions, which helped,” he said.
California estimates are likely to continue to drop as official estimates are released since early December’s freeze.
Low temperatures Dec. 4-10 in the San Joaquin Valley have definitely affected citrus supply, according to grower-shippers in that region.
As of January 15, no official numbers were available from Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
“We’re still trying to determine the exact extent of the damage,” said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations.
The USDA January estimate lists numbers 3% to 5% lower than December estimates for oranges and tangerines.
Blakely said he expected an accurate report to be released near the end of January.
He said damage is worse in Kern County, and that other areas saw only minor effects.
“They don’t have as many wind machines down there, so there was less damage as you move north,” Blakely said.
Doug Sankey, sales manager of Parlier, Calif.-based Sunwest Fruit, said he has heard damage report estimates range from 20% to 25% of the navel crop, and closer to 50% for mandarins.
However, as mandarin harvests continue, more accurate numbers will be available.
Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, Calif., said the timeline of the harvest also has been affected.
“The cold weather has also changed the timeline. We normally have navels into June and occasionally into July, but I don’t think that will happen this year. I’m guessing we’ll end in May, and if not certainly by early June,” Galone said.
Still, despite all the upsets caused by the freeze, Galone and other growers agree quality is still strong.
“Despite all the negative news, the flavor is excellent. That’s our positive in a year that hasn’t had many positives,” Galone said.
California growers have said that despite damage there is still a lot of fruit to sell.
“There is still sufficient volume to fill orders, although we may see an earlier end to the season. We’ll be meeting demand until the end of the season, which could be several weeks earlier than normal,” Blakely said.
“We usually go through the middle of July, but I’m not sure we’ll get past early June this year. We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.
Harvey Phillips, a salesman for Johnston Farms, Bakersfield, Calif., said damage could be more extensive than some estimates he has heard so far.
“My estimate is that we could have lost 60% of the crop before it’s all said and done,” he said.
So far, pricing for the larger fruit has gone up a little bit, according to Phillips, but smaller fruit, which was hit harder, has seen bigger increases.
“It’s rare when smaller fruit is quoted at a higher price than larger fruit,” he said.
Texas has seen a slight increase in supply, according to the USDA.
Grapefruit estimates are up about 3.5% and oranges are up about 4%.
Trent Bishop, vice president of sales for Mission, Texas-based Lone Star Citrus Growers said the state has seen a really good growing season this year.
“We had some timely rains that caused some short-term panic but that really were a true benefit in the long run,” Bishop said.
Rain had delayed harvest at the end of last year, he said.
The added moisture hasn’t been enough to really affect reservoir levels, he added, although it has allowed growers to refrain from accessing that water, so it’s still a positive result.
“It has positively affected the water supply up north slightly,” he said.
Bishop said LoneStar’s volume is up considerably this year, and they expect to offer a lot of promotions in the next 120 days or so for the state’s grapefruit and orange crop.
“We have an excellent quality this year, with no reason to expect that will change,” he said.
Although Texas has seen good weather, potential challenges remain as the state battles to keep citrus greening from creeping further into the state.
“We are taking all the necessary precautions to keep it out of the state and to keep it from spreading once it is found,” he said.