VERO BEACH, Fla. — Despite a slightly later start, Florida’s newest citrus season is shaping up as typical.
On grapefruit, the season resembles a rebound year, and grower-shippers report the new season bringing sweeter fruit possessing better internal and external qualities.
Across the board on most varieties of grapefruit, oranges and tangerines, grower-shippers report high quality fruit.
In its first official season forecast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Nov. 8 reported production declines in oranges and grapefruit with growers expected to harvest the fewest oranges in nearly 25 years.
Florida growers are expected to increase sunburst tangerine production by 14% and production of the honeys, which begin harvesting in January, by 24%.
Grapefruit production is forecast to decline to 17.8 million cartons, 3% less than last year, according to the USDA.
The USDA projects fruit size to be near the minimum on the navels, sunbursts and colored grapefruit, below the minimum on the white grapefruit and valencias and below average on the honeys.
Despite the smaller sizes, the deal should produce promotable volume, said Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce.
“Fruit sizing may be a little on the smaller end on some of the varieties,” he said. “We may have to pick a certain package to help promote the product, but we still will have promotable volume on all the varieties.”
Swords characterized internal quality as high and said fruit shape appears to be better than last season.
In November, growers were harvesting high volumes of grapefruit in the Indian River region.
“Grapefruit should be in promotable quantities this year,” said Russell Kiger, sales manager of DLF International Inc. “There will be ample opportunities for retail promotions throughout the season.”
Kiger said he expects the season to bring better quality on all citrus varieties.
As the offshore deal was finishing in late October, buyer demand shifted to Florida, said Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for the Dundee-based Florida Classic Growers, the marketing arm of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association.
He said many retailers were promoting navels in 4-pound bags and tangerines in 3-pound bags.
“We are anticipating a good season and demand has really begun to ramp up,” Finch said “We had a little later start than normal, but overall, our fruit was well-received by the trade. As we move toward the holidays, it will be an excellent time for promoting bagged tangerines, navels and other oranges.”
Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC, said growers are harvesting high grapefruit quality.
“For the eating quality of this crop, the flavor is excellent and far surpasses what we had last year,” he said in early November. “The consumer will get a fair value and will definitely be satisfied with the product they’re getting because of its very good internal quality.”
On tangerines, grower-shippers in early November transitioned from the early season fallglos to the sunbursts.
“We are experiencing high demand for tangerines,” said Steve Kiral, fresh fruit sales manager for Uncle Matt’s Organic Inc., Clermont. “The supply should remain as good as we’ve had in any past season here, and hopefully consumer demand will remain strong.”
Buyers should expect slightly higher f.o.b.s this season, said Dave Brocksmith, Florida citrus manager for Seald Sweet International.
“We are looking for a solid season,” he said. “Where it costs us $1,000 an acre to grow citrus, those costs in some areas are $2,500-plus an acre. For the grower to continue to exist, he will have to gain higher prices.”