Booth Ranches LLC was in full swing harvesting, packing and shipping navel oranges in mid-January, says Tracy Jones, vice president of sales and marketing. ( Courtesy Booth Ranches LLC )

Mother Nature seemed to smile on growers throughout the U.S. as the 2019-20 citrus season got underway.

As of mid-January, no major hurricanes, storms, heatwaves or freezes were affecting California, Florida or Texas citrus production areas, and growers said they were harvesting plenty of sweet, juicy fruit.

The Jan. 10 citrus crop estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast a harvest of 125.5 million boxes of oranges for the current season, up from 124 million last year.

The grapefruit forecast was 15.7 million boxes, up from 13.8 last season.

Lemon and tangerine production was down.

Growers were expected to produce 20.4 million boxes of lemons, compared to 24.1 million in 2018-19, and 23 million boxes of tangerines, down from about 27 million last year.

“We are in full swing harvesting, packing and shipping navel oranges,” Tracy Jones, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, Calif., said Jan. 11.

“The eating quality has been excellent,” she said.

The season started a week later than planned in order to allow fruit time to color up, she said. Also, some imported navels remained in the market.

“Since then, we were able to catch up and are on target moving through our crop,” Jones said.

Sizes have been peaking on 72s to 88s, then 56s.

The winter has brought a decent amount of rain and warm weather, but Jones said growers would welcome additional rain and cool nights with temperatures in the 30s.

Booth Ranches plans to finish its navel program by the end of June “with a strong late navel finish,” she said.

Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira Co. was picking lemons in California’s San Joaquin Valley and in the coastal region, said John Chamberlain, vice president of marketing.

“Quality looks good,” he said, with a larger percentage of fruit sizes 115, 140 and 165.

“Last year, we had a lot of larger fruit because of the (heavy) rain situation,” he said. “This year, sizing is spread more evenly over mid ranges.’ 

In Florida, Dundee-based Florida Classic Gowers Inc. was into its midseason oranges, said president Al Finch.

The company will transition to valencias in mid-February and continue with those until the end of May.

Then the summer storage program will get underway and continue through June.

W. murcotts were scheduled to start the week of Jan. 13 followed by honey tangerines the following week.

“Quality this year on citrus has been exceptional,” Finch said.

The Florida navel crop that recently finished had an “outstanding year for flavor, color and sizing,” he said.

Trees have rebounded nicely from Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida in 2017, he said, and they also appear to be bouncing back from citrus greening disease.

“Overall, this season has gone very well, and we look for this trend to continue for the second half of the season,” he said.

Growing conditions generally have been good this year, agreed Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual.

“We could always use more rain, but we have had sufficient amounts,” he said.

“The cold weather recently has helped as well.”

Good quality also was reported out of Texas, where 70% of the citrus crop consists of grapefruit and 70% is oranges, said Dale Murden, president of Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.

Nearly all of the state’s citrus is marketed domestically.

In mid-January, growers were finishing their navels and early varieties, and they planned to start valencias in February, he said.

So far, growers have been fortunate, with only one light frost in December that caused no significant damage.

But lack of rain was a concern.

“We’re starting to be a little bit concerned about an overall dry pattern,” Murden said.

At Lone Star Citrus Growers, Mission, Texas, T.J. Flowers, vice president of operations and sales, said grapefruit quality was good, though volume is lighter than in 2018-19.

“The good news is, with lower yields on grapefruit we are seeing larger sizes, on average, than last year,” he said.