California citrus growers have fared relatively well this season despite lower volumes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture lowered its estimates for California orange and mandarin production in its July 12 crop report, but California Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelsen said the season has still been a good one for producers.
“Frankly, the 17-18 season for the growers was real positive from a revenue-per-acre perspective, and that’s what you’ve got to look at,” Nelsen said. “It has been a positive season for the navel orange grower, a positive season for the mandarin producer, it’s a positive season for the lemon producer, and while the valencia season is still not completed, it’s started off well.
“We managed to capture some of our export opportunity before the heat started, and that’s important,” Nelsen said. “So we’re kind of bullish that, when the numbers are finally in for September, the valencia grower is going to do as well as his fellow producers in the other varieties.”
The California orange forecast is 44 million boxes, down 1% from the USDA’s June projection. The estimate for valencias has been lowered 5% to 9 million boxes, on par with last season. The forecast for navels is steady at 35 million boxes, which is down 11% from the 2016-17 season.
The smaller navel crop — with that season normally running from October into June — was expected by the industry because of a couple of weather events.
Last spring, a significant amount of rain knocked many blossoms off the trees. Even before that rain, however, the trees did not have as many blossoms as usual.
Nelsen attributes the lower number of blossoms to the persistent drought the trees endured in preceding years.
“This is hindsight, but we think the trees were just tired, and so they weren’t producing as many blossoms, even though they had adequate water supply,” Nelsen said.
Nelsen noted that while volume was lower, the quality of the navels produced was excellent, with ideal size structure and great flavor.
While volumes of valencias and mandarins are also likely to be lower than expected, the differences are not dramatic, Nelsen said.
The first USDA estimate for the next California citrus crop will come out in September.
“It’s hard to see the fruit — it’s green against the green background, so it’s kind of hard to see it — but it looks like we’ve got a lot of pieces of fruit on the tree,” Nelsen said. “We’ll see what happens as we get closer to it.”
The USDA lowered its forecast for Texas oranges to 1.88 million boxes, down 11% from the June estimate. The number still represents a 37% gain from the 2016-17 season.
Grapefruit production in the state is projected at 4.8 million boxes, 16% lower than the June estimate but on par with last season.
Texas Citrus Mutual president Dale Murden explained the state finished up with citrus in mid-June and so the USDA merely adjusted its estimates to fit actual production.
“All things considered, we had a pretty good year,” Murden said, noting that packout was a little better this season.
He mentioned growers got lucky on weather. There had been hardly any rain all year, and in late June — after production finished — about 16 inches fell across four days.