VERO BEACH, Fla. — Continued lower volumes characterize the opening of Florida’s grapefruit season.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Oct. 9 season opening forecast, the world’s largest grapefruit producing state is expected to pack 19.8 million cartons of red and white grapefruit, down 8.7% from last season’s 21.7 million boxes.
Florida should pack 14 million cartons of colored or red grapefruit — the state’s largest variety — and 5.8 million boxes of white grapefruit.
That compares to the 15.1 million boxes of red grapefruit and 6.6 million boxes of white grapefruit the state shipped last season.
Grapefruit pickings normally start in early October, build volume through November and December, and peak in January and February when retail chains conduct large grapefruit promotions.
David Mixon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Seald Sweet International, said he looks for a strong grapefruit crop.
“The quality on grapefruit will be outstanding this year,” he said in late October. “The internal qualities have good brix readings.”
Mixon said sizings have turned out to be smaller than the industry originally estimated earlier in the season.
Mixon said grapefruit was peaking on 40s, then 48s, 36s and 56s. He said the start of the deal is normally heavier toward the smaller sizes.
Pat Rodgers, president of Greene River Marketing Inc., said sizings should peak in the middle area of size and should offer a good run of sizes.
“The size structure of this year’s crop is currently medium to small,” he said in late October. “Although it makes it difficult to cover large sizes on the early market, it really makes the entire crop much more manageable to market. Whenever we are inundated with real large or real small fruit, it becomes a challenge and prices usually suffer.”
This season’s fruit quality is much improved over last season, Rodgers said. He said the fruit has better shape, little wind scar and excellent brix and sugar ratios.
Matt Kastensmidt, national sales manager for IMG Citrus Inc., said he expects a strong season.
“Maturities are where they should be and we will have good-eating fruit,” he said.
Though early season prices opened high, Scott George, vice president of sales and marketing for DLF International Inc., said grapefruit prices had begun falling by late October.
George quoted $20 f.o.b.s in early to mid-October and said prices had become more affordable by the end of the month at $14. He said he expected prices to decline to $12 by early November.
“This year seems to be running two to three weeks behind,” he said in late October.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in late October reported 4/5 bushel cartons of Florida red grapefruit in Chicago selling for $26 for 18s, $28-28.50 for 23s and 27s, $28 for 32s, $24-26 for 36s, $22-24 for 40s, and $21 for 48s.
Last year in late October, the USDA reported 4/5 bushel cartons of Florida red grapefruit in Chicago selling for $25 for 23s, $25-26 for 27s, $23-23.50 for 32s, $21.50-24.50 for 36s, $19-19.50 for 40s, and $17.50 for 56s.
Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, said this season is bringing high brix.
“The pipeline is getting filled, as grapefruit is finally up and going now,” he said in late October.
Because the crop is heavier on the smaller sizes, 36s and smaller, Swords said retailers should look to promote the smaller fruit during the first half of the season and through the holidays in bulk and in 5- and 8-pound bags.
Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC, said the more consistent sizings will help the deal.
“With more uniform sizes out there, it won’t be heavier toward the bigger sizes, which is good because it gives us time to manage the crop,” Richey said in late October. “We won’t be overburdened with the big fruit early. The size structure is very good.”
Richey said the Indian River growing region has experienced a favorable growing season that has produced a uniform bloom.
Mild winters during the past few years prompted the trees to bloom sporadically. Because of this past winter’s cooler than normal temperatures, which saw freezes damage south Florida vegetable production, citrus trees went into a dormant state. As spring came, the trees all emerged at once and produced the uniform bloom, he said.
Richard Miller, domestic sales manager of Premier Citrus Packers Inc., said rainfall has been a little low. but the groves received the rains when needed after going through a drier than normal August.
There are some concerns, however, about melanose, a cosmetic disease that doesn’t affect fruit quality. Miller and other grower-shippers say the disease shouldn’t be an issue this season.
“So far, weather has been too hot, and rain has been limited,” Miller said in late October. “Now that California and Texas are open to Florida, we look forward to reconnecting with our customers.”
Premier began its grapefruit shipments in mid-October, about three weeks later than last year’s start, which was abnormally early, Miller said.
Central Florida, which grows a considerably smaller volume of grapefruit, has seen a tougher year on the fruit, said Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for Diversified Citrus Marketing, the Lake Hamilton-based sales agency that markets for Dundee Citrus Growers Association, Dundee.
“Grapefruit has been a fight,” he said in late October. “We have had some problems with maturity in getting fruit passed. This has been one of the latest starts on grapefruit that we have seen. Demand is starting to pick up and maturities haven’t been there to get started.”
Dundee’s growers began harvesting in late October. Sizes were peaking on 48s and 56s, Finch said.