VERO BEACH, Fla. — This year’s Florida citrus deal should see a reduction in volume on all varieties, with particular declines in navels and sunburst tangerines.

The lower production should keep prices strong.

Lower Florida citrus volume expected

Doug Ohlemeier

Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., views grapefruit running on the packing line.
Richey says this year’s deal is bringing more consistent sizings which won’t be heavier towards the larger sizes. The improved sizings should help growers better manage their crop, he said.

The state’s shippers welcomed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s lifting of restrictions it had placed on Florida citrus being shipped to other citrus-producing states.

In its Oct. 9 season opening forecast, the USDA predicted lower volume of oranges and grapefruit.

Though forecasters predict the state to pack 77% more honey tangerines, up 1 million boxes from last season’s 1.3 million boxes, shippers say the state should see smaller fall shipments and smaller sizes of sunburst tangerines.

“There’s not an abundance of good tangerines out there,” Scott George, vice president of sales and marketing for DLF International Inc., said in late October. “Tangerines are fairly tight. There’s no surplus of good fruit. It has been very competitive, as far as procuring fruit.”

Florida shippers are expected to pack 161.7 million equivalent cartons of all citrus fruit this season, down 14% from the 189 million boxes the state packed last season.

Shippers, however, said they were optimistic and were expecting a strong season.

Despite declining production, David Mixon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Seald Sweet International, said he’s confident the state will have enough fruit to produce a marketable crop.

“There’s not a bumper crop of product that’s available but we have a good volume of marketable and very good quality fruit that will show some higher retails, but not so high that there’s not an opportunity for consumers,” Mixon said in late October.

“With costs increasing across the board, citrus will be very competitive with other items such as apples, pears and grapes, but will still be at a comparable value to the consumer. We all should be able to adjust to the actual demand of the product against the production.”

Seald Sweet’s growers, like others in the industry, by mid-October had started picking all varieties.

Shippers begin packing navels in early and mid-October.

Shipments usually run through the end of December before the late season valencias begin production in late January and early February.

Freezing temperatures that struck growing regions during January and February knocked a lot of fruit buds off the trees in the central growing areas, thus making navels set a much lighter crop than normal.

The navel deal could be up to 25% shorter than last season, sources said.

Pat Rodgers, president of Greene River Marketing Inc., agreed the deal should see smaller overall volume.

“Some groves have a nice crop on them, but the fruit is a little smaller, so it equates to less total boxes,” he said. “In other areas, the crops are a little lighter and the fruit is bigger but it also equates to fewer boxes.”

Greene River this season plans to pack up to 1.9 million cartons of grapefruit, oranges and tangerines.

Saying  packed and disinfected fresh citrus fruit isn’t an epidemiologically significant pathway for the introduction and the spread of the citrus canker disease, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Oct. 22 reopened the California, Arizona and
Texas markets to shipments of fresh Florida grapefruit, oranges and tangerines.  

Shippers said the lifting of the ban would help movement to the large consumer markets found in the citrus-producing states.

“We have already had calls on the issue,” said Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, the Fort Pierce-based marketer that packs and sells for 10 Florida packinghouses. “We are very excited to have another market to go to on all varieties, but especially the tangerines.”

During the precanker years, Florida sent 12% to 15% of its sunbursts and up to 20% of its honeys to the two large consumer markets.

Richard Miller, domestic sales manager of Premier Citrus Packers Inc., said a stronger process market should help strengthen growers’ incomes.

“The cannery prices are higher on grapefruit and oranges this year,” he said. “With grapefruit juice inventories so low, the process market will give us a better option if we can’t get it in the box with the grade we need.”

Matt Kastensmidt, national sales manager for IMG Citrus Inc., agreed that a stronger juice deal should benefit fresh shippers.

“We expect stronger prices this year because of lower supply,” he said. “With juice inventories down, it should lead to stronger pricing this season for packinghouse eliminations.”

Little grapefruit is grown for process markets, as a majority of groves are  harvested to ship fresh, Kastensmidt 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, said the season has opened positively.

“There is more excitement in the air for starting this year’s Florida citrus than in years past,” he said. “Demand for navels and tangerines has been extremely strong, due to high imported citrus costs.”

One of the state’s largest packers, Diversified expects to ship 3.2 million cartons of oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and tangelos, slightly more than what it shipped last season.

Quentin Roe, president of Wm. G. Roe & Sons Inc., Winter Haven, said the growing season has gone well.

“By and large, we have had a good growing season,” he said. “We will have a pretty good crop of fruit this year.”

Generally, it takes a year for the groves to recover from a significant freeze like the freezing weather that struck the state in January and February. Roe said he expects the groves to return to a strong cycle next season.

Roe began picking and packing its fallglo tangerines in mid-September.

About 11% of Florida's total citrus typically goes fresh. Four percent of its oranges, 41% of its grapefruit and 57% of its tangerines ship fresh.