Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif., is again shipping Sky Valley heirloom navels. ( Courtesy Cecelia Packing Corp. )

Volume should be up in most U.S. citrus-growing areas this season compared to last year, and despite challenges in some areas, growers say they’re shipping some good-quality fruit.

The navel orange deal got off to a rough start in California in late fall, said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

The summer was unusually hot in the San Joaquin Valley, where most of the state’s oranges are grown.

At one point, temperatures topped 100 degrees for more than 30 days straight, Nelsen said.

“That shut down the trees,” he said.

As a result, sizing on the fruit, especially the early varieties, was unusually small.

Rainfall around Thanksgiving and in December and early January was helping to improve fruit size.

Early this season, citrus growers nationwide had to deal with Southern Hemisphere fruit “lingering in the domestic market for longer than ever,” Nelsen said.

“You had questionable quality and really reduced prices creating a lot of market confusion,” he said.

As a result, October, November and December were “not as lucrative as we would like to see.”

But as supplies of imported citrus wound down and domestic movement picked up, markets seemed to improving.

“From a domestic perspective, the customer base is in good shape right now,” he said in early January.

Florida’s citrus industry still is recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irma, which hit the state in September 2017, wiping out a large part of the orange and grapefruit crops, said Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual.

During the 2017-18 season, the state shipped only 45 million 90-box equivalents of oranges, 3.9 million boxes of grapefruit and 750,000 boxes of tangerines.

Hurricane season now is over for Florida growers, but they’re in the middle of the freeze season, Meadows said.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed until March or so, when we get out of the freeze danger zone,” he said.

Meadows seemed optimistic about the current season.

“We’re on our way to a rebound,” he said.

Up to 95% of the state’s oranges are grown for processing, however, the state has a “small but robust” fresh deal, Meadows said.

Citrus movement in Texas started off a bit slower than usual this season, mostly because of the large amount of imported fruit remaining the in the distribution pipeline, said Dale Murden, president of Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.

“Demand and movement were a little slow because of that,” he said.

Movement had picked up by Christmas but still was behind last year.

Murden expected Texas citrus volume to be greater this season than last, but he said growers had “a very wild growing year” that alternated between periods of drought and record rainfall.

He seemed hopeful for the 2018-19 season.

“Quality seems to have held up,” he said. “Movement is hopefully picking up.”

He does not expect citrus markets to be as strong as they were last year, but he still remained positive.

“We’re looking forward to a good spring,” he said.