This year’s California navel orange crop, estimated at 93 million cartons, should be a bit larger than last year’s estimated 89 million cartons, but grower-shippers hope for a continuation of the prices they enjoyed last season.
In an effort to provide end users with a better-eating piece of fruit than in past years, the state’s growers have agreed to implement what they’re calling the California Standard.
That means some growers may have to hold onto their fruit a bit longer than usual until it meets a specific maturity — and taste — standard.
“We’re never sure when we’ll get started,” said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, Calif.
“This year, it’s even more in question.”
Galone estimated that Booth Ranches will start harvesting the third or fourth week of October with limited availability for shipping the first week of November. The company expects “reasonable availability” by mid-November.
Cecelia Packing Corp. in Orange Cove also should start shipping navel oranges in late October, a bit earlier than last year.
“A lot of items have been a little earlier this year than they were last year, and navel oranges are no exception,” said Randy Jacobson, sales manager.
The company plans to ship navels until mid-May.
Volume at Cecilia Packing will be up slightly compared with last year, in line with the state’s overall orange crop.
Jacobson attributes the larger crop to good growing conditions.
He’s optimistic about fruit size, despite survey results from the California Agricultural Statistics Service indicating that, as of Sept. 1, fruit diameter was slightly smaller than the five-year average.
Despite increased competition from mandarins, prices have remained surprisingly steady on navels, he said.
“The crop size has not been overwhelming, so we’ve been able to manage the crop pretty well and do a fair job on the pricing.”
Galone agreed that navel prices have stayed steady or perhaps gotten stronger, even with good-size crops and the fact that “the mandarin varieties are compromising somewhat the demand for navels.”
On Oct. 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was reporting f.o.b. prices of $18-$20 for 15-kilogram (33 pounds) cartons of size 40 Chilean navels, with size 48-56s mostly $18 and 64-72s at $16-$18, all entering at Philadelphia.
South African navels were selling for mostly $20-$22 for 15-kilogram containers of size 40-56, $20 for 64s and $18-$20 for 72s.
F.o.b.s of 7/10-bushel cartons of shippers’ first grade California valencia oranges were mostly $9.73-$11.75 for size 48-56s and $10.73-12.75 for 72s.
Retailers and consumers can look forward to good-quality navels as the season kicks off, said Mike Keeline, salesman for Bravante Produce, Reedley, Calif., which is in its third season with Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers Inc.
“The size looks good,” Keeline said.
“Overall, our (oranges) appear to be a little bit larger than last year.”
Volume at Bravante Produce should be up 10% over last year. The company expects to start shipping in early November and continue into June.
Fred Berry, director of marketing for Mulholland Citrus in Orange Cove, was hoping for cooler temperatures in October and maybe even some rain to help trigger color change and speed up maturity.
He expects the company to start shipping navels in late October, at least a week ahead of last year. But that will depend on the weather.
“We would like to see some fall,” he said.
August and September, which had many days in the 100- to 105-degree range, may have set records for average daily temperatures, he said.
Fortunately, nighttime temperatures dropped significantly, and that’s beneficial for the oranges, Berry said.
Some forecasters are predicting El Niño conditions this year, which could trigger more rain than usual, he added.
Rick Eastes, vice president and general manager for Seald Sweet West International Inc., Dinuba, Calif., anticipates larger-size navels this year than last.
He expects to see normal sizes of 88s to 113s early in the season and 56s and 72s as the year progresses.
Conditions already were starting to become more fall-like in the Orange Cove area, Jacobson said.
“We seem to be seeing some growth as the heat starts to back off a little bit, the nights are a little longer and getting a little bit cooler,” he said.
“The trees are waking up.”