Like its conventional counterpart, organic citrus is expected to be in ample supply this fall and winter, and quality should be good.
At Homegrown Organic Farms in Strathmore, Calif., Scott Mabs, chief executive officer, said organic citrus sales are “moving forward at a steady pace.”
“The consumer seems to continue to demand it, so it’s continuing to grow,” he said.
Eco-Farm Corp. in Temecula, Calif., has been experiencing good markets on organic citrus all year, president Steve Taft said.
The company will offer navels from the San Joaquin Valley from around Dec. 1 until April 1. Eco-Farm will start shipping cara cara oranges in January, just ahead of its blood oranges that will be available starting in February. The company also will have organic minneolas from the Central Valley.
“There doesn’t seem to be any letup in the organic charge,” Taft said.
There’s been a change in distribution patterns among a number of large-volume retailers who used to buy organic produce through distributors, said John Stair, domestic commodity manager for San Francisco-based Pacific Organic Produce.
“We’re seeing more activity with retailers approaching us to purchase closer to the source,” he said. “It makes more sense to purchase more closely to the grower.”
Homegrown Organic Farms will add pummelos to its product line for the first time this year, Mabs said.
The firm also will offer navel oranges, clementines, w. murcott and gold nugget mandarins, grapefruit and lemons. In addition, the firm will bring in some organic limes from Mexico.
The company now is shipping organic lemons from the desert and plans to start navels out of the San Joaquin Valley in early November and mandarins in late November, Mabs said.
The navel crop will be down compared with last year, but mandarin volume will be the same.
Quality looks fine all around, Mabs said.
Pacific Organic Produce will increase its lemon and grapefruit volume by about 15% this season thanks to the addition of two growers, Stair said.
The company began sourcing lemons from the desert in late September and started its grapefruit deal in mid-October. Navels will kick off in mid-November.
Quality also was looking good on grapefruit.
“We’re expecting to see a strong season volumewise on our organic grapefruit out of the desert,” Stair said.
Early indications pointed to improved size and color compared with last season, and that’s good, he said, because the fruit won’t require much ethylene gas, and that enhances shelf life.
“The trees are helping everyone in the supply chain by getting us fruit with better color,” he said.
In northern San Diego County, water has become a major issue, Taft said.
A lot of organic citrus trees have been pulled out because of rising water rates, he said.
“The one crop that has been really badly hit by it has been the valencia oranges,” Taft said.
Eco-Farm lost as much as half of its organic valencias, along with a few acres of navels, he said.
It doesn’t pay to grow valencias in that region, he said.
“You’ll pay more for the water than you’ll get for the crop.”
Organic citrus usually continues to demand a premium price, growers said.
One reason for the higher cost is the extra effort involved in the growing process.
“You have to be very good at it to do it well,” Taft said.
While costs have dipped a bit on some inputs, like organic fertilizers, they’ve risen on others, like weed control and water, he said.
Mabs said it just isn’t practical for organic citrus to be priced the same as conventional.
“Especially with citrus, if you come in line with conventional, we won’t have any growers left,” he said. “The economics of it are just different.”
There’s definitely a premium, Stair said, but the extent of that premium can vary by time of year.
“Generally speaking, the beginning of the seasons and the end of the seasons are where we see the strongest premiums for conventional,” he said.