What this year’s Texas orange crop may lack in size and volume, it should make up for in terms of sweetness and overall quality, grower-shippers say.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the coming season’s non-valencia crop at about 1.4 million boxes compared to 1.7 million boxes last year. The valencia crop is estimated at 329,000 boxes, up from 249,000 last year.

At Healds Valley Farms Inc., Edinburg, Texas, where picking started around Oct. 1 for navel and juice oranges, quality was excellent, marketing director Richard Walsh said in mid-October.

Sugar and juice levels are the best he’s ever seen, he said.

“Growers did a fantastic job with what they had to work with on all the fruit,” he said.

Sizes were mostly mid-range — 113s to 88s.

The navel crop should continue until the end of the year, and juice oranges will wind down in February or March, when valencias hit the market.

Like other grower-shippers, Lone Star Citrus Growers, Mission, Texas, may have been a little late getting started this season, but Trent Bishop, vice president of sales, anticipates a good year.

“If this were a normal season, we’d be packing more cartons than we did last year,” he said. “But because of the freeze last winter, combined with an extremely hot, dry summer, there’s a lighter set of fruit on the trees.”

Quality should be good, he said.

Early-season navel and juice oranges also started shipping from Rio Queen Citrus Inc., Mission, in mid-October, said president Mike Martin.

However, he said the fruit may be a bit smaller than usual, and volume may be off slightly.

“Often, we see a lighter crop follow a really heavy crop,” he said.

A couple of cold mornings in February may have affected the fruit.

“We didn’t lose any crop, but I think it did impact the bloom this spring,” he said.

Some estimates indicate that the orange crop may be down as much as 25% compared to last year because of the late frost, said Ruben Shives, sales manager for Edinburg Citrus Association.

Quality is excellent on navels, he said, “There’s just not enough of them.”

Juice oranges seem smaller this year, but they look fairly clean, he said, with less scarring than in the past.

The larger sizes — 72 and above — could bring premium prices, he said.

Despite the drought, there’s plenty of water behind the dams to flood irrigate the citrus groves, Walsh said.

“We’ve been blessed with plenty of water for our crops, we but still need rain to create size,” he said.

While volume predictions may be down from last year, Walsh pointed out that volume depends on more than just the number of oranges on the trees.

Size and quality also affect volume. If the product does not meet the federal marketing order criteria, it will go to the processing market, pulling down the fresh volume.

In mid-October, he said the fruit sizes were on the small size, but as they grow, the box count will increase.

The fact that the Texas crop is off a bit could push prices a little higher than normal, Martin said. Florida could have a very good crop, though, pulling prices down a little, he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was reporting f.o.b.s on 7/10 bushel cartons of Texas navels of $13.25-15.25 for 56s, 64s and 72s and $12.35-13.25 on 88s the week of Nov. 7.