( Courtesy IMG Citrus )

Good growing conditions have Florida citrus growers looking forward to a strong crop this season with volume an estimated 3.4% greater than last year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nov. 8 estimate projected a total orange crop of 74 million boxes, up 3% from last season, and grapefruit production of 4.6 million boxes, a 2% increase over last year’s crop.

Florida’s combined tangerine and mandarin crop is forecast at 1.05 million boxes, 6% higher than last season.

DLF International Inc., Fort Pierce, Fla., started packing navel oranges, juice oranges and grapefruit in early October, said president Doug Feek.

Seeded and seedless tangerines also started in October, and honeybell tangelos will start in January.

Feek was pleased with the weather this year.

“It’s been relatively dry during the time we needed it dry, and we’ve had enough moisture to keep the fruit growing and the trees healthy,” he said.

Fruit quality should be good as well.

“Brix levels look like they’re going to be better than last year,” Feek said.

GT Parris, commodity manager for Florida citrus for Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla., also was pleased with fruit quality.

“Quality is the best it has been in several years and seems to be across all varieties,” he said.

Sizing on grapefruit is medium to small, he said in early November, while oranges were “running normal.”  

“Volumes should be very similar to last year,” he said, “but there is some hope that, due to quality, we could see a slightly higher pack out for the fresh market.”  

Seald Sweet ships grapefruit, oranges and tangerines.

Florida Classic Growers, Dundee, Fla., started navels and hamlin juice oranges in October, said president Al Finch.

“Movement has been very good on navels and juice orangs,” he said.

The company will start tango and w. murcott low-seed mandarins in December and continue through the first of the year.

Honey tangerines should be available from mid-January until April, and valencia oranges should start in mid- to late January and continue through May.

The crop at Vero Beach-based IMG Citrus Inc. seems to be recovering well from hurricane damage from past seasons, said Barbara Baker, who handles sales and business development.

“Trees are responding well to IMG’s new fertigation strategy, based on liquid fertilizer constantly spoon-fed to the trees at the optimum rate trees can intake,” she said.

“As a result, trees are healthy and vigorous, and the green lush canopy we lost after two back-to-back hurricanes is back.”

IMG expects its 2019 grapefruit to peak from December through February, oranges from December to June and tangerines from November to March.

Citrus volume at Noble Worldwide, Winter Haven, Fla., will be up more than 20% from last year, said president Quentin Roe.

“Most of the growth will come from our new plantings of proprietary varieties of tangerines,” he said. “Some growth from oranges and pummelos will round out the increase.”

Harvest started in mid-September and will run through May, with valencias available from storage through July, he said.

Vero Beach-based Riverfront Packing Co. LLC kicked off its grapefruit program in early October, and president Dan Richey said he was pleased with the internal and external qualities of the fruit.

Brix levels should be up to 15% higher than last year, and external quality is “probably the best I’ve seen in 20 years,” he said.

“I’m very pleased with what we have to offer to the consumer.”

Riverfront Packing is a major grapefruit shipper and exports about 90% of its grapefruit crop to buyers in the international market, Richey said.

The company also is diversifying into oranges, tangerines and tangelos this year after being out of those programs since the 1980s.