( File photo )

California’s 2018-19 navel crop is forecast 11% bigger than last season, rebounding from a short crop a year ago.

The initial 2018-19 navel orange forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture is 80 million cartons, up 11% from the previous year. Government survey data shows a statewide fruit set per tree of 426, well above the five-year average of 333.

The average Sept. 1 diameter was 2.117 inches, below the five-year average of 2.269 inches.

Of the total navel orange forecast, 77 million cartons are estimated to be in the Central Valley, according to the forecast.


Import concern

While the bigger production forecast is welcome, one industry leader expressed concern about California’s declining navel orange acres.

Navel orange bearing acreage in California’s Central Valley has dropped from a peak of about 135,000 acres in 2009 to just 113,000 acres for 2018-19, said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual. 

Inexpensive Southern Hemisphere imports have arrived early and stayed late, squeezing returns for California growers and contributing to a long-term decline in acreage.

While this year’s California navel crop will be higher than the short crop of a year ago, Nelsen said there is continuing concern about long-term acreage declines related to imports.