Many California and Arizona citrus growers supplement their navel orange acreage with clementines, mandarins and other specialty citrus and say those categories seem to be gaining favor with retailers and consumers alike.
Some growers say specialties — especially easy-peelers — may cut into navel sales, while others, like Dennis Johnston, partner in Johnston Farms, Bakersfield, Calif., say navel sales are as strong as ever.
“We don’t particularly see an overall cutting into the navel deal,” Johnston said. “Overall, I think the navel deal is pretty robust.”
But he said that there are some weeks when specialties — clementines in particular — may take a bite out of the navel sales.
Mulholland Citrus, Orange Cove, Calif., offers clementines and mandarins and hopes to get started by the end of October, perhaps a few days earlier than last year, said Fred Berry, director of marketing.
“A lot still can depend on the weather,” he said in late September. “At this point in time, things look very favorable.”
Berry said specialty crops are very much affected by rain.
“Rain acts different than normal irrigation in terms of pushing the fruit along,” he said.
Johnston Farms has increased its satsuma mandarin acreage and tonnage, Johnston said.
The firm packs more than 300,000 25-pound boxes of satsumas, murcotts, gold nuggets and Tahoe golds.
“That’s been a slow but steady increase in volume year after year,” he said.
Johnston expects mandarins to kick off the same time as navels — the week of Nov. 11.
Sizing should be ideal on the company’s stem-and-leaf satsumas, he said, which means they won’t be excessively large.
Cara cara volume should be up a bit compared with last year from Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif., said Randy Jacobsen, sales manager.
They should start shipping on or before Dec. 1, he said, perhaps a bit earlier than usual.
Minneolas should come on by late January or early February.
The company’s minneola program is substantial, though not huge, Jacobson said, and sales continue to increase.
“Over the next four or five years, volume probably will double,” he said.
Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., offers specialty orange varieties, such as the cara cara navel, available from December to May, which the company has branded “The Power Orange” because of its nutritional punch, said Joan Wickham, manager of advertising and public relations.
Blood oranges are another seasonal favorite, available from December until mid-April, she said.
SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, Calif., expects its clementines and mandarins to be up in volume this season, said salesman John Senn.
The company expects to kick off its season the second week of November.
Sequoia Orange Co. in Exeter, Calif., expects a large crop of melogolds to start Nov. 11, said Ross Bailey, sales manager.
The company is a major melogold shipper, he said, and will have excellent quality fruit until mid-February.
The melogold is a hybrid grapefruit that has such a high brix level that you don’t have to add to add sugar, said Sequoia president James Wilson.
The company exports about 95% of its melogolds to Japan and Korea.
“We would like to expand it to the domestic market,” he said.
Cecilia Packing will kick off its Sky Valley Ranch navel heirloom program of Old Line Washington Navel Oranges the first of January, Jacobson said.
The Sky Valley navel oranges were planted using sour orange root stock, commonly used in the first half of the 20th century but seldom used anymore because it is susceptible to disease and production issues, Jacobson said.
The fruit will be available until the end of March.
The company also will start shipping Dimples brand mandarins in April and blood oranges from late December through February.