Early start for valencias? California hopes so

05/31/2012 02:50:00 PM
Tom Burfield

California grower-shippers are hoping for an early start to the summer valencia deal, since navel supplies are expected to wind down soon.

California Agricultural Statistics Service estimates this season’s valencia crop at 28 million 40-pound cartons, down slightly from last year’s 29 million cartons, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.

In addition, the state’s growers will continue to offer lemons throughout the summer.

Although about 10% of California’s navel crop was damaged by early-winter freezes, the cold weather did not hurt the upcoming valencia crop, Blakely said.

California had an even drier year than usual, but spring rains helped ramp up sizing on late-season navels as well as valencias and lemons, he said.

Some shippers already had exported a few valencias by early May, but he said the deal was off to a slow start.

However, the fruit should be eating well when volume picks up significantly in late June or early July.

“I haven’t heard anything negative about the quality,” Blakely said in mid-May.

Booth Ranches, Orange Cove, Calif., had started shipping valencias in early May, and expects to ship late navel varieties until the third or fourth week of June, said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing.

Some shippers started late navels in early May and expected to finish by the end of that month, he said. Others hoped to continue into July.

Booth Ranches plans to ship valencias into October, Galone said.

In the past, the company tried to wind down its valencia deal in July or August, but last year, the firm extended the program and discovered a good customer following. Since valencias hold well, they can ship longer.

“It fits the profile certain customers wanted,” Galone said.

This year, the fruit has sized pretty well, he said.

He anticipates a large amount of size 56s, which is larger than the 88s or 113s that many buyers prefer.

Buyers can source lemons from California just about year-round.

Alex Teague, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Limoneira Co., Santa Paula, Calif., said California’s summer lemon deal was looking good, with excellent quality and supplies.

Retailer and foodservice business was picking up this spring, he said.

Most of the state’s summer lemons come from district 2, the Ventura County growing region near the coast, which experienced good growing conditions with just enough rain for a perfect set and good size, Teague said, and “not too much wind scar.”

Oviedo, Fla.-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods should finish up its late California navels by early June and continue with lemons through the summer, when Mexico will start, said Paul Huckabay, Western citrus sales manager.

Conditions were favorable for a nice lemon crop, he said, with an even distribution of sizes.

Valencia oranges seem to be regaining popularity after suffering a big dropoff about 10 years ago, Galone said.

Consumers became so enamored with imported navels that it “changed the valencia deal dramatically,” he said.

“It didn’t make sense to keep valencias.”

Growers started pulling out the marginal and non-producing trees and replaced them with clementines, mandarins or other entirely different crops.

“There just wasn’t a demand for them,” he said.

After culling the low-quality, low-producing trees, the industry was left with some very high-quality valencias with only a few seeds, Galone said.

“If you haven’t tasted a valencia recently, you haven’t tasted a valencia,” he said.

Booth Ranches ships more than 1 million cartons of valencias a year, and has achieved a following among domestic and export buyers, he said.

Consumers find valencias to be a reasonably priced alternative to high-priced imported navels during the summer, he said.

Some retailers merchandise bulk imported navels along with value-priced bags of domestic valencias, he said.



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