What this season’s California-Arizona navel orange crop might lack in size, it should make up for in flavor, grower-shippers say.

Tight water supplies due to California’s extended drought have helped keep the size of the fruit smaller than usual. Sizing could improve if the San Joaquin Valley receives a couple of good rainstorms this fall, growers say.

Meantime, more than 50 days of temperatures topping the 100-degree mark have helped boost the sugar content of the fruit.

This year’s California navel orange crop estimate is 81 million 40-pound cartons. Of that amount, 78 million cartons will come from the Central Valley. Last year’s Central Valley forecast was 85 million cartons, and final utilized production was 81 million cartons, down from the record 93 million cartons produced in 2010-11.

Many grower-shippers expect actual production this season to be lower than the official estimate, which comes from California’s Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Growers say the drought could put a crimp in production, just as it prevents fruit from sizing up.

Sugar levels should be good on clementines and navel oranges from the Visalia, Calif., area, said Jeff Olsen, president of Chuck Olsen Co., Visalia.

“They should eat very well,” he said.

Although Olsen anticipated good supplies early in the season, he said supply issues for oranges could pop up in March or April because some acreage was pulled out and a lighter-than-normal crop is expected.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” he said.

In Edison, Calif., Johnston Farms expects to have a nice crop of navels, satsumas and grapefruit after last year’s December freeze, said partner Dennis Johnston.

The company plans to start its navel orange program the last week of October, four or five days earlier than usual, Johnston said.

Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co., Lindsay, Calif., was one of the first companies to start picking navels this season. The first bins arrived at the packing shed Oct. 7, said Al Imbimbo, vice president of sales.

“The eating quality this year will be exceptional,” Imbimbo said.

A lack of windstorms in Kern County this year should result in more clean, fancy grade fruit than usual, said Norm Gatineau, vice president of sales and marketing for LoBue Citrus, Lindsay.

He expected 70% of the crop to be fancy grade and 30% to be choice grade.

“Right now, the size is up in the air,” he said in early October, largely because of the drought. LoBue expected to start shipping Oct. 21.

There’s plenty of fruit on the trees this year, albeit somewhat smaller than usual, said Randy Jacobsen, sales manager for Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif.

“No doubt lack of water or difficulty with water played a role,” he said.

The company expected to start its navel deal by Oct. 20 and its cara caras on or about Dec. 1. Cara caras should be normal size, he added.

He hoped for a mid-December start on blood oranges, which should have larger volume but smaller sizing than last season.

The company’s Sky Valley heirloom navels should be available around the first of the year.

“It’s the best-tasting piece of fruit we have,” he said.

LoBue Citrus expected to start its desert lemon deal in mid-October, Gatineau said. He expected good quality and slightly higher volume than last year.  

“The market was crazy” this summer, he said, because demand exceeded supply. Chilean growers did not export their typical volume to the U.S., he said.

He expected conditions to return to normal as the fall/winter season progresses.

Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira Co., which ships lemons year-round, also expects good quality this fall and winter, said John Chamberlain, director of marketing.

Sunkist Growers Inc., Valencia, Calif., expects a strong lemon crop, added Joan Wickham, manager, advertising and public relations.

Sunkist offers several lemon varieties, including conventional, organic, meyer, seedless and pink variegated, which Sunkist has branded Zebra lemons.