The U.S. winter citrus season has crossed the halfway mark with plentiful supplies and no quality issues, according to marketing agents.
“We’ve been packing navels and tangerines since around Sept. 11 and just finished our sunburst tangerine variety,” said Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for Lake Hamilton, Fla.-based Florida Classic Growers Inc.
“We had an excellent year on them, with sizing that was little larger than the previous season. We just started our honey tangerines, and they’ll be available through April. Sizing on those will be a little smaller than the sunburst, but the crop size will be a little larger.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of Jan. 17, 7/10-bushel cartons of size 48-56 navels shippers first grade from central and southern California and Arizona were $15.73-16.75.
In lemons, 7/10-bushel cartons of first grade 165s from California were $19.73-21.75.
“Lemon consumption continues to increase slowly, both domestically and internationally, as foodservice continues to make a comeback and more nutritional messages are getting out regarding lemons,” said Alex Teague, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira Co.
“Pricing continues to adjust to new increased volume from Mexico and Chile. However, with increasing consumption, the marketplace appears to be absorbing it with minimal interruption.”
Forty-pound cartons of seedless, size 110 limes from Mexico were $12-14.
Seven-tenth bushel cartons of marked Rio Star Texas fancy grapefruit, in size 36, were $10-11.35.
Florida Classic Growers finished its navel crop in early January, Finch said.
“The crop size was a little larger than last season,” he said.
“We had good promotional activity on the 4-pound bags in navels, as well as the 3-pound bags in sunburst tangerines. We had very good ad activity.”
Grapefruit sized up a little larger this year and good promotional volume should be available through February, Finch said.
“Many retailers are running grapefruit promotions for bagged grapefruit, 5-pound bags, for January and February,” Finch said.
“Grapefruit typically ties in with New Year’s resolutions and weight loss. With all the New Year’s resolutions and promises, people are starting their diets, and many retailers are featuring grapefruits in January and February.”
Florida Citrus Packers Inc., Lakeland, reports exceptional fruit quality.
“We have more fruit available for Europe and all markets, as a matter of fact,” said Richard Kinney, executive vice president.
“It’s kind of a typical kind of season — not poor, not exceptional.”
Size was an asset for Fort Pierce, Fla.-based DNE World Fruit Sales, said Kathy Hearl, marketing and promotions manager.
“This year, the fruit size has been much larger than the past few seasons,” she said.
“We also have very high brix levels — a month ahead on maturity, versus last year.”
She said any damage from cold weather was little more than spotty.
“Not our best-looking crop this year, but certainly one of the sweetest we’ve had,” she said.
Volume on honey tangerines is larger this season than last, with larger fruit, Hearl said, adding the season will run through mid-April.
The Florida navel season was “great” and “fruit was early and very sweet,” Hearl said.
The grapefruit crop in Texas is down slightly from a year ago, said John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, Mission.
“We’re looking at a crop this year that’s down somewhat than years past, due to freezes last winter,” McClung said.
“It was enough to cut the crop about 20%. Frankly, sometimes the supplies are down but the prices are up.”
Drought has plagued Texas, said Dennis Holbrook, president of South Tex Organics LC, Mission.
Irrigation compensated, though, he said.
Texas’ citrus crop is about three-quarters grapefruit, McClung said.
“If we can get the grapefruit off the tree, we have a good market because we have a reputation for having the best grapefruit,” he said.
“We’re pretty comfortable with that arrangement. There’s no reason to think we won’t have that in the years ahead.”
Texas’ season got under way on time in October and should wind up in May, he added.
“It was a very hot summer and extremely dry, so the trees kind of get in survival mode,” said Mike Martin, president of grapefruit grower-shipper Rio Queen Inc., Mission.
“The fruit suffered somewhat and I think that affected the yield. And we also had very cold temperatures a couple of mornings in early February, and I think that affected the bloom.
“It was three things that came together to produce this reduced crop, after a bigger crop last year.”
California growers have seen dry conditions and cold nights, but the fruit has come through in good shape, growers said.
“So far, the season has shaped up just fine,” said David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus Association Inc., Delano, Calif.
“We’re pleased with where we are today — a little bit farther behind in terms of the later start, but not troubled by it and happy with the movement we’ve been seeing. A little bit of a struggle on size structure, but that’s somewhat limited by the delayed start and the slow to mature.”
The cold posed no serious problems, said Claire Smith, director of corporate communications for Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers Inc.
“Despite a December full of frosty nighttime temperatures, it appears that the majority of oranges and lemons have escaped harm,” Smith said.
“Growers spent many hours and much money in protecting their crops, and those efforts seem to have worked. There is some concern for portions of the mandarin crops due to their greater susceptibility to cold, but it is too soon to ascertain if there has been any fruit damage.”
Lemon demand is reaching pre-recession levels, Smith said.
“We expect good demand and good supplies in January and February despite a shorter crop this year from Arizona and Southern California growing areas,” she said.
“The overall navel market appears stable and demand is increasing in both domestic and export markets as is normal for this time period. Specialty citrus crops look to be of very good quality this year, although estimates are for a smaller volume of almost all the varieties.”
California fruit was a bit late to start, but that was about the only problem, said Andrew Brown, a grower and director with California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.
“It’s been abnormally cool. You didn’t have our historical amount of heat accumulation, and that kind of delayed development of fruit,” he said.
“Maturity has been a little later in coming.”
Harvest in navels, mandarins and lemons peaked at the end of 2011, Brown said.
Supplies out of California appeared normal, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations with the California Citrus Mutual.
“We’re doing a good job of supplying the market,” he said.
“We were two to three weeks getting started, but in terms of weekly volumes, we’re about at where were at this time last year, which also had a late start. We’re probably approaching 20% harvested. We’re typically closer to 25% at this time of the season.”
The crop is lighter, but that shouldn’t be a problem, said Tom Wollenman, general manager of LoBue Bros., Lindsay, Calif.
“We have a little lighter crop than we had last year, which was probably a good thing, because we had a huge crop last year,” he said.
“Our start was later, which paralleled all the other tree fruits and vineyards. The demand has been steady. Prices are fairly decent. The exports to Asia are kicking in as they always do this time of year.”