For a more recent story on the lemon shortage, see here.
High temperatures in California have contributed to a demand-exceeds-supply situation for lemons.
Distributors including Sysco produce division FreshPoint have been using their market reports to advise customers about availability issues expected to persist for months.
In a Twitter post, FreshPoint recommended its customers switch to limes when possible.
On July 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b. prices at mostly $ 41.80-45.80 for cartons of shippers first grade California lemons sizes 95 and 115.
One month earlier, the prices for cartons of shippers first grade California lemons were mostly $28.80-31.80 for 95s and $29.80-32.80 for 115s.
The USDA commented in its latest shipping point trends report that shipments are light and trading is very active.
As for domestic fruit, California Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelsen said a heat wave in the coastal region this month has brought on ripening much more quickly than usual. Alex Teague, chief operating officer of Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira, said the high temperatures hit around July 7.
“There’s been a lot of fruit that’s fallen off the tree,” Nelsen said. “Typically what we do is we harvest the fruit when it’s green and let it ripen under storage conditions ... The fruit on the tail end of the season, it ripens on the tree, turns yellow, and you’re hoping to get it off before the heat adversely affects it.
“Well, it didn’t happen this year,” Nelsen said. Zak Laffite, chief sales officer for Delano, Calif.-based Wonderful Citrus, gave a similar account.
“Where growers had tried to extend the season with tree ripe fruit, you can see higher signs of fruit drop in the groves,” Laffite said. “This could affect the overall lemon supply for the next 12 weeks.”
He noted Wonderful has less than 20% of its crop still on the tree.
“This year’s coastal lemon crop seemed to have more early color or ripening on the tree, which forced us to speed up the rate of harvest between February and May,” Laffite said. “Early color can sometimes represent a higher risk of fruit drop later in the season.”
He estimated that imported lemons account for at least 35-40% of supplies from July to September and said weather has also hampered production in Mexico and Chile.
“The overall Mexican lemon crop is expected to be down by 15-20% because of a cold front in December that affected trees in the colder regions of Mexico’s lemon growing regions in the north,” Laffite said. “Chile, on the other hand, is projecting a lemon crop very similar to last season, but their shipments to the U.S. are down by 30% against the same time last season. They haven’t been able to harvest as fast as last season due to rain/weather disruptions and a later crop.”
Nelsen also mentioned that import volumes have not been as large as usual.
“It’s coming in, but there’s just not enough fruit available,” Nelsen said.
“A lot of people thought Argentine lemons were going to be arriving, and they have not arrived in the volume that was anticipated,” Nelsen said.
Nelsen said he expects the shortage to continue until Coachella Valley lemons start entering the market in September.
Teague said he expects tight supplies until mid-September for small sizes and until October for big sizes.
The company is currently sourcing fruit from California, Chile, Argentina and Mexico and will roll into the California-Arizona desert region by the end of August.
Full supply from that area will not be available until the end of September, however.
Across the various areas, volumes are moderate and quality is good, Teague said.
Laffite also said quality is good, and fruit is moving quickly.