Navel orange crop shapes up just right for growers

10/26/2009 11:39:50 AM
Tom Burfield

REEDLEY, Calif. — This year’s California navel orange crop should be right where grower-shippers want it to be — 16% greater than last year’s but far from setting any volume records.

The initial forecast, issued Sept. 11 by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, calls for 80 million cartons of navels with a fruit set per tree of 294 — below average but improved significantly from last year’s record low of 202.

Average diameter measured a normal 2.34 inches Sept. 1, and the report said “quality is expected to be good.”

However, a higher percentage of scarring this year, caused by heavy winds in April and May, likely will result in more fruit than usual ending up as choice grade, said Russ Tavlan, president of Moonlight Packing Corp.

That could mean a stronger market for blemish-free fancy grade product. The crop typically breaks down as 80% fancy and 20% choice, he said, but this year, fancy volume could be only 70%.

Scarring causes only minor cosmetic imperfections and doesn’t affect the quality of the fruit, Tavlan emphasized.

Since this year’s crop is a moderate-sized one, and there won’t be an excessive amount of fruit in the pipeline, Roy Bell, general manager at Lindsay-based Cal Citrus Packing Co., said he did not expect to see an especially early start.

“I don’t think anyone will be in a hurry this year,” he said.

He did expect to see clean, good-sized fruit this season with plenty of size 72s and 88s available by mid-November.

He was pleased with the uniform fruit set early on. Multiple blooms with variable sizes can mean inconsistency, he said.

This season’s Arizona navel crop should be about 300,000 boxes, according to an estimate from Sherman Oaks-based Sunkist Growers Inc.

Steve Hayko, president of Mesa, Ariz.-based Go Green Organics LLC, said his company will start shipping organic oranges, some of which may be sold as conventional fruit, around Christmastime.

Temperatures this summer and early fall were exceptionally high, and growers had to irrigate extensively. But in early October, Hayko was anticipating a gradual cool down.

Oranges seemed to be sizing up well. He expected good supplies of sizes 56s, 72s, and 88s.

At Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno, partner Atomic Torosian said in mid-September that sizing in California looked good this year — about one size larger on average than last year — and the fruit set also was better than last year.

“Sometimes we get an early-summer drop,” he said, but this summer the drop was minimal.


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