VERO BEACH, Fla. — This year’s Florida grapefruit season is marked by a slow start caused by later maturing and smaller-sized fruit.
The season got off to a late start this fall because of failing fruit maturity tests.
Instead of starting in early and mid-October, the later-maturing fruit caused harvesting to start about two weeks behind schedule.
Shippers describe the start as puzzling as two months of drought conditions stopped fruit growth and delayed maturities and juice levels, making growers and packers struggle to meet maturity levels during harvesting.
“We have a good crop out there. It’s just a matter of getting to it,” Richard Miller, domestic sales manager of Premier Citrus Packers Inc., said in late October. “Once we get started, things will move along quite well.”
Because of the tardy start, Miller called early season prices high.
In late October, he quoted 56s selling for $10-11, with the larger 48s selling for $12-13 and 40s at $13-14 with prices on jumbos jumping to $16-18 for 36s and $22-24 for 32s and larger.
Miller said prices increased on the 32s because lack of availability requires two weeks to sell a straight load.
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, $26-28 for 32s, $20-24 for 36s, $16-20 for 40s, and $17-18 for 56s.
Last season, the USDA in late October reported the same 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.
The late start might actually help the deal as packers won’t overrun the market with too much volume too early in the deal, as has frequently happened in the past, Miller said.
He said he expects prices to gradually work their way down as more promotable volume hits the deal.
Pat Rodgers, president of Greene River Marketing Inc., characterized external and internal fruit quality as “absolutely brilliant.”
He said the fruit that was being picked in late October possesses high brix, but buyers need to be aware of smaller sizes.
“I don’t think there will be any point during the season when we will have more 32s and larger than 40s and smaller,” Rodgers said in late October. “The whole season won’t be inundated with 32s, 27s and 23s. It will be one of those years where pricing on bigger fruit will stay fairly strong. The middle sizes will be more prevalent.”
Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, said the challenge of smaller-sized fruit will mean growers will have to better manage their harvesting.