LINDSAY, Calif. — California’s valencia orange deal is projected to lose ground — literally — this summer as growers proceed with acreage conversion to navel and mandarin varieties.
California valencias continue to be pressured by citrus imports from Chile, Australia and South Africa, said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
The California Agricultural Statistics Service estimates the valencia crop at 25 million 40-pound cartons, down from 28 million in 2012. That’s largely because 1,000 fewer acres are in production this time around, Nelsen said, though weather trends also influenced the outlook.
Sherman Oaks-based Sunkist Growers and others already were shipping some valencias in March.
“The valencia season has started for us in the export market,” Leland Wong, Sunkist marketing director, said March 27. “It will be part of the domestic market very soon, but we still have late-variety navels that we’ll be shipping into summer.”
Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, began harvesting valencias the last week of March and expects production of about 1 million cartons through October, said Tracy Jones, vice president of domestic sales.
LoBue Citrus, Lindsay, expected to start harvesting valencias in mid-April, said Rick Osterhues, vice president of sales and marketing.
Exterior quality and fruit taste are good, Nelsen said.
“The juice is there, which is what valencias are known for,” he said. “We’re bullish on it, but there’s not going to be as much available in the late spring and into summer and fall as in the past. Eventually it’s going to level off to where supply equals demand domestically. But right now, volume is still shrinking.”
California’s late navels, in past years often available in modest supply as late as the Fourth of July, likely will be done by mid-June, according to Osterhues. “We’ll go through May with the navels,” he said. “There will be a few who go into June.”
Subpar winter rainfall in southern and central California brought down navel sizes and shipments. The state crop, originally estimated at 90 million cartons, could finish closer to 84 million, Nelsen said.
That downturn won’t hamper Sunkist’s marketing of its crop, Wong said.
“The lack of rain does affect the size, but we should have plenty of large and medium sizes to go,” he said.
Since October, Sunkist Growers has had a new outlet available for smaller oranges through its partnership with Stemilt Growers on Lil Snappers, a line of 3-pound bagged fruits for children.
“It took a while to get Lil Snappers off the ground, but that was partly because we wanted to time it to the crop,” Wong said. “It’s taken on a life of its own, though. It does move smaller oranges, but it’s also a way to introduce varieties to kids who ordinarily wouldn’t have sampled them, like blood oranges and cara cara.”
Bob Blakely, director of industry relations at California Citrus Mutual, expected mandarins to wrap in late April or May.
Mandarins, too, trended to smaller fruit sizes. But unlike with navels, younger trees coming into production did much to make up the slack.