The effects of the December freeze that struck central California continue to be felt in citrus markets, with mandarins and navels from the state ending two to three weeks ahead of traditional timetables.
But don’t count California out of the summer citrus market — grower-packers say valencias should start early and they still have adequate supplies of lemons.
In mid-May, Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said growers were in the final weeks of navel harvest. Typically the season runs through the Fourth of July.
“The freeze last December reduced our crop, so as a result, we’re running out of fruit earlier than we would have normally,” Blakely said.
Although valencias went through the same December freeze, Blakely said the fruit was at a different stage of development and was less susceptible to the cold snap than navels.
“They fared fairly well, and we haven’t seen much damage,” he said of valencias. “So we’re optimistic we will have only a slight reduction in the crop due to the freeze.”
Only about 25% of the state’s lemon crop is in the Central Valley and were subjected to the December cold snap, Blakely said. The bulk of the state’s lemon groves are along the Central Coast, with a lesser amount of acreage in the desert. Those regions didn’t see the cold.
Lindsay-based Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co. plans to ship Central Valley valencias throughout the summer, said Al Imbimbo, vice president of sales. California citrus markets slowed after the freeze as prices increased and retailers decreased the amount of space devoted to the crop.
How that will play out this summer with valencias is still unknown. But Imbimbo said he remains optimistic because he’s providing a California orange picked at the peak of flavor.
“I will say that a lot of the more premium retailers have consumers wanting higher flavor,” he said. “A lot of that product that comes counterseasonal doesn’t have good flavor. I don’t see the demand for Australian citrus going up or for Chilean citrus going up.”
Booth Ranches LLC will likely see a 20%-25% reduction in valencia volume this summer due to the December 2013 freeze, said Tracy Jones, vice president of domestic marketing.
But she said the Orange Cove, Calif.-based citrus grower-packer should still have adequate supplies for retailers to promote as California grown and at affordable prices.
Booth Ranches also can supply retailers with high-graphic bins, pop-up display bins or high-graphic boxes that can be used in a main produce department display or a secondary display elsewhere in the store, she said.