VERO BEACH, Fla. — Buyers should expect an early end for this season’s Florida grapefruit and tangerine crops.

While the state’s citrus in general survived the December freezes, a lack of packable grapefruit — which has been shipping with record low sizings — may draw the season to a premature close.

Richard Miller, domestic sales manager of Premier Citrus Packers Inc., said the freeze may have caused more damage than inspectors discovered.

Premature end of grapefruit shipments expected

Doug Ohlemeier

Richard Miller, domestic sales manager of Premier Citrus Packers Inc., Vero Beach, Fla., examines grapefruit running on the packing line. Shippers say this season’s Florida grapefruit and tangerines could end early.

Miller said exports lead the domestic grapefruit deal, and once the export houses shut down, the domestic deal won’t be able to pick up the volume and prices they accept.

Miller noted the smaller sizes and said 75% of the grapefruit packings by the region’s packinghouses have been on the smaller 40s, 48s and 56s, compared to the larger 23s, 27s, 32s and 36s that on a normal year would account for a larger proportion of the packout.

Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, said the small sizings have made the season challenging and required harvesters to spot-pick certain groves as many as two times.

Though shippers have been dealing with smaller sizes, they have been able to promote the fruit in the right packaging to help retail movement.

Swords said he expects valencias, the deal’s late-season orange, to bring sizings larger than the unusually small-sized early and midseason oranges. He called valencia sizings normal and said DNE will look to promote its valencias heavily in the 3-, 4- and 5-pound bags.

“On the freeze, reports on the crops we pack fresh show quality should be fine,” Swords said in mid-February. “With all this cold we have had, it has really brought on the color on all the varieties. We have a much brighter orange color this season.

In late February, Jason Bedsole, sales manager of Eastern vegetables and citrus for Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo-based A. Duda & Sons Inc., characterized his company’s orange and tangerine quality as high.

He said orange and tangerine movement has been strong.

“We are seeing above-average movement on oranges and tangerines,” Bedsole said. “We have had a very strong deal on those.”