Even with a weaker dollar, Seald Sweet is committed to providing fruit for the U.S. market, Mixon said.
“We’re confident we can achieve pricing levels acceptable by consumers without putting growers out of business,” he said. “But there may be a higher percentage going to other markets.”
Last year California’s late navels went later than normal, bumping hard into imports.
“Typically California is gone by the end of June when South African and Australian fruit hits the market,” said Paul Marier, vice president of sales and marketing for Montreal, Canada-based Fisher Capespan.
“Last year, because California didn’t get the heat, they were delivering navels right into mid-August. It was a very negative thing for California growers fighting imports and vice versa.”
The long overlap depressed prices all around. While nobody’s predicting California navels will stretch into August, estimates vary on just when they’ll stop.
“Navels will not go nearly as long,” said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Orange Cove, Calif.-based Booth Ranches, who expected to wrap up in mid-June.
“We do hear some shippers plan to go through at least the end of June. But I don’t think the fruit will hold up through the summer.”
Winter was wetter this year, and that means a shorter lifespan for late varieties, Galone said.
He predicted a supply gap between California navels and imports.
“Retailers like to have us keep navels in the supply chain until the Southern Hemisphere starts,” Galone said.
“What’s going to happen this year is that as more shippers run out of their late navels, there will be a gap between then and when imports start. Prices will go higher, supply will be tighter.”
But Paul Huckabay, Western citrus sales manager for Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, Fla., predicted there will be no gap.
“With a large California navel crop that is expected to go probably through the better part of July, there will definitely be some slight overlap with the navels coming in from Chile,” Huckabay said.
California also had a strong clementine and mandarin season, Huckabay said, which should narrow the normal gap for those commodities with imports.
“You may see only a two- to three-week gap from the third week of May through the second or third week of June,” he said.