( Courtesy Cecelia Packing Corp. )

California’s navel orange growers hope that a projected dip in volume of 7% or more will help them recover from the 2018-19 problem-plagued season.

Last season was the “worst year in history” for the state’s navel orange deal for a number of reasons, said Joel Nelsen, strategic adviser and former president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

As the California season got underway, there remained excess offshore fruit that was of “inconsistent quality and being sold cheap,” Nelsen said.

On top of that was the “dislocation of fruit in the export market.”

Shipments to China were down, leaving more fruit to saturate the domestic market.

Fruit size also was a problem.

“It stopped growing” in August, he said, as a result of unusually warm weather, “and it never caught up.”

“The combination of all those factors reduced the ability to get a profitable f.o.b. on a per-carton basis,” Nelsen said. “As a result, it was a red-ink return on a per-acre basis.”

The initial crop forecast for this season was 76 million 40-pound cartons, 73 million of which will come from the state’s Central Valley.

There will be fewer pieces of fruit per tree, but fruit size should be larger than last year.

Growers were hoping for rain in October to help boost sizing.

Dan Kass, vice president of sales and business development for Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co., Dinuba, Calif., was optimistic.

“We’re pleased with the weather we’re having in California,” he said in early October. “It’s going to promote a good crop for the coming season.”

He expected to start the navel crop around Oct. 20, which is a typical start date.

He said warm days and cool nights should help promote size growth, color break and improved internal maturity.

The company’s navel volume will increase slightly as a result of new acreage.

This will be the fourth season that Kern Ridge Growers LLC, Arvin, Calif., will market its own navel oranges, said salesman Chris Smotherman.

The company used to be part of the Sunkist cooperative.

Smotherman expected a decent crop when Kern Ridge kicked off its navels the third week of October.

“I don’t see anything out there that I think would be a big negative,” he said.

Valencia, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers will have more than 40 varieties of California-grown citrus this season, said Christina Ward, director of global brand marketing.

“Our fresh citrus offerings include navel oranges, lemons, grapefruit, mandarins and specialty varieties, such as blood oranges, cara cara navel oranges and minneola tangelos,” she said.

The company will kick off the season in late October/early November with California navel oranges followed by easy-to-peel Sunkist Delite mandarins.

Sunkist specialty varieties include sweet-tart pummelos; Texas Rio Star, Florida, sweetie and melo gold grapefruit; and sweet, easy-peel satsuma mandarins.

In addition to seasonal specialties, Sunkist offers lemons, limes and grapefruit year-round, Ward said.

Sunkist also offers a full portfolio of organic citrus.

Fowler, Calif.-based Bee Sweet Citrus Inc. will have navel oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruit, meyer lemons and pummelos this season, said salesman Jason Sadoian.

“At the very end of December, we will have blood oranges, cara cara navels and minneolas,” he added.

In early October, the company already was picking lemons and grapefruit, and the firm was scheduled to pick domestic mandarins and navels later in the month. 

Keith Wilson, salesman for Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif., said the company will have only a brief gap — seven to 10 days — between its valencia crop and the start of its navel oranges the last week of October.

Besides navels, the company will ship cara caras, blood oranges, minneola tangelos and gold nugget mandarins.

Wilson expected a good crop with about the same volume from Cecilia Packing as last year.

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