Big navel crop spells good season-long supplies

10/27/2010 03:09:14 PM
Don Schrack

SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. — If the forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is close to accurate, California’s San Joaquin Valley will be awash in navel oranges this winter.

The forecast is for a crop of 93 million cartons, 90 million of which should be grown and packed in the valley. However, customers may have to wait for the orange windfall.

“Maturity is running later than last season by about two weeks,” said Claire Smith, director of corporate communications for Sunkist Growers Inc. “And the bulk of the crop’s increase will be on the later varieties.”

Size is expected to be down slightly, especially early in the season, she said, peaking on 88-113s.

Not all grower-shippers are anticipating smaller sizes, however. Among the exceptions is Wileman Bros. & Elliott Inc., Cutler.

“We have lots of young trees that tend to produce larger fruit,” said Andrew Felts, sales manager. “I don’t think we’re necessarily in tune with the industry when it comes to sizing.”

Wileman Bros. & Elliott is scheduled to begin its navel harvest in early November, he said.

The later season start, larger volume and smaller sizing are the picture at Paramount Citrus Association, Delano, said Scott Owens, vice president of sales and marketing. On the bright side, grower-shippers expect good to excellent quality.

“We’re thinking a little bit smaller piece count, but everything else is real positive,” Owens said.

Weather permitting, Paramount is scheduled to start its navel harvest the week of Oct. 25, he said.

Shipping is scheduled to begin the first week in November at Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co., Lindsay, said Al Imbimbo, vice president of sales.

“We have a very clean crop, and the shape is very spherical,” he said.

Buyers wanting big sizes early in the season may end up frustrated.

Through the end of the year, Imbimbo said sizes will likely peak on 88-113s, but could get bigger in 2011.

Bravante Produce, Reedley, is another grower expecting to run counter to the smaller sizes. While the company’s Kern County acreage is expected to produce smaller fruit, its more northern groves are on target for larger navels, said Ken Collins, general manager.

The Kern County fruit is traditionally the first to be picked. The earliest harvest start for Bravante Produce this season, Collins said, would be the last week in October.

“It’s a good manageable crop, but I think it might be a little difficult the first month with the size structure to work through down south,” he said. “After January, I don’t think size will be a problem.”

Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., Visalia, is traditionally among the latest to offer navels, said Steve Nelsen, co-owner.

“We don’t have any early, early varieties,” he said. “We’ll probably begin shipping about Dec. 1.”

The volume of organic navels from Sunkist Growers also should be up this season. One reason for the increase is new acreage that has transitioned from conventional to organic, Smith said.

Harvest of organic navels will not likely begin before mid-December, she said, and sizes will be similar to conventional navels, slightly smaller than the 2009-10 crop.

Grower-shippers are winding down their valencia seasons. Most will have the fruit through October and some into early November, they said.

California’s traditional summer orange crop is becoming a smaller and smaller player in the citrus game.

“It’s a great tasting piece of fruit,” said Mike Wootton, senior vice president for corporate relations and administration for Sunkist Growers. “The problem for the valencia has been the fact that there’s so much competing product, not just citrus, but everything else that’s in the marketplace today as well as all the Southern Hemisphere production.”

Wileman Bros. & Elliott will have valencias at least until the start of its navel harvest, Felts said.

Fans of minneolas will have to wait until late in the year to find California-grown fruit on market shelves.

Valhalla Sales & Marketing could have limited supplies of minneolas the last week in December, Nelsen said. Sunkist Growers is scheduled to begin harvesting the desert crop of minneolas the week of Dec. 13, Smith said. The desert crop’s volume is down as much as 30%, she said.

The variety grown in other regions of California will reach maturity after the first of the year, grower-shippers said, with volume about the same as last season.

Wileman Bros. & Elliott expects its minneola harvest to begin in February, Felts said. January is the target start for Sunkist’s nondesert minneola crops, Smith said.

The harvest is expected to continue at least through February.



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