Tom BurfieldA worker for Nickel Family LLC, Bakersfield, Calif., empties his bag of fukumoto navel oranges into a bin Oct. 16. The oranges are grown for Orange Cove, Calif.-based Mulholland Citrus. They were scheduled to reach supermarket shelves by Oct. 23.The navel orange crop out of California and Arizona should be slightly smaller than last year’s, but growers expect plenty of large, good-quality fruit.
California’s crop should be around 88 million cartons, down about 2% from last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Fruit set per tree is 265, which is less than the five-year average of 315. Generally, the fewer oranges per tree, the larger the fruit size will be, which seems to be the case this year.
Oranges could be two sizes larger than last year, on average, said David Stone, an owner of Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., Kingsburg, Calif.
In late September, the company’s navels already were peaking on 88s and 72s, he said, adding that quality looks good.
“This year’s crop definitely has sizes that will lend themselves to marketing better than last year,” said Roy Bell, general manager of Cal Citrus Packing Co., Lindsay, Calif.
Since the crop is not excessively large, he said, it shouldn’t be a real challenge to market it.
The crop “has all the markings of a very good year,” he said.
Limited volume could start showing up from Booth Ranches LLC in Orange Cove, Calif., by late October, said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing.
Promotable volume may be available by the second week of November.
“That is determined by the weather and how quickly the color comes on,” he said. “Flavor will be there from the beginning.”
Fruit quality looks great, said Jeff Olsen, president of Chuck Olsen Co., Visalia, Calif. There was not a lot of acid in the fruit, which may help the crop get an earlier start than usual.
Thanks to the larger sizes, the market could stay strong, even into January and February, when prices on small fruit tend to drop because the industry is “so overwhelmed with small fruit at that time,” Olsen said.
“It should be a fairly good, strong market with not a lot of weak spots,” he said.
Quality of the fruit from Moonlight Packing Corp., Reedley, Calif., looked spectacular in late September, said president Russ Tavlan.
“We have far less fruit count on the trees, but size is among the best we’ve seen in recent history, along with an early maturity,” he said.
“It looks like we’re going to start a couple of weeks earlier than historical norms,” he said.
He expected Moonlight Packing to start harvesting in late October.
SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, Calif., also expects a good navel crop this year starting in early November, salesman John Senn said.
“The quality looks excellent right now on the trees — better size at this time compared to last year,” he said in late September. “Overall, it looks like a healthy crop.”
Stone said there could be some odd-shaped oranges showing up early in the season.
The beck variety typically has a unique shape, but this year it could be more oblong than normal.
It’s unknown why the unusual shape is appearing this year or how much of the fruit growers will be able to pack, he said.
“It seems to be an industrywide issue.”
The beck is a clean variety and one of the best-eating of the early navels, he said.
Senn also said recent freezes in Chile and South Africa could put a dent in early table grape supplies, which might mean more space for U.S. citrus on produce department shelves.