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Change of seasons for citrus
While the cold temperatures of December and January saw the navel harvest get off to a rough start, April showers, and March, literally brought a flowering of the navel crop.
According to Bob Blakely, director of Industry Relations for California Citrus Mutual, the navel season will wrap up with a very good end.
“The year turned out really well,” Blakely said. “I think most of the growers are going to report that they have had a good season. They will be shipping for a couple of weeks, then we’ll gather the totals.”
At this point, Blakely suspects that the original estimate for the crop, 83 million cartons for the Central Valley alone, will either be right around correct, or that the growers will report totals greater than that number. The three largest counties that produce navel oranges are Fresno, Tulare and Kern Blakely said, adding that the overall total for the state’s navel harvest was estimated at 85 million cartons. According to the Tulare Count Agriculture Commissioner/Sealer’s latest crop report for the year 2010, the value per ton of navel oranges was $808. Valencias were valued at $550 per ton.
For the 2011/2012 navel season, there was little damage from the winter temperatures, Blakely said, and the rains increased the size and improved the oranges’ quality.
“We’re going to export a lot of fruit,” Blakely said, commenting on the fact that navels are still being exported right at the end of the season, which is an unusual occurrence and indicative of how well the harvest has turned out. In prior years, according to the Agricultural report, the two orange crops made up 52% of all the fruit and nut exports to other countries.
The 2010 report also states that the county has 76,100 acres of navel-bearing trees, and 18,000 acres of Valencias. Out of Tulare County’s entire citrus-fruit bearing trees, navels comprised 67%, Valencias 15%, with the third largest crop being tangerines/tangelos at 11% of all the citrus fruit-bearing trees. There was an increase in the total value of all citrus fruit harvested in Tulare County because of higher yields and prices of oranges. Of all the Combined, oranges were the second most valuable product produced in the county, coming in behind milk, and totaling in value at over $616 billion.
Another indicator of just how good the navel crop has been, Blakely said, is the increase in demand.
“We’ve seen the prices come up the last couple of months,” he said. “The fruit started eating well in February and March, and we saw a demand increased, with the prices following. We’re going to finish really strong this season.”
At the same time, Blakely said, the Valencia harvest has already began, and is not shaping up to be a good year.
“The Valencia harvest has been running in the background since April, when we started exporting the Valencias,” Blakely said. “As we get the hotter months, the export market drops off and they concentrate on the domestic, but they are peaking at larger sizes than the market is demanding, so we are seeing a lot of demand for smaller fruit, with a large quantity of larger sizes.”
Citrus growers who grow Valencias never see as much success during their harvest as navels, Blakely said, for a number of reasons. The Valencia variety of orange is simply not as popular as navels, which are coming into their harvest season in the southern hemisphere, and Mandarins. Valencias also have to compete with local summer fruits.
The fact that Valencias have a “higher juice return” Blakely said, offsets this a little. The total value of processed Valencias, the county Agricultural report says, was $5.150 million. Unprocessed Valencias were valued at $91.3 million. However, out of the 166,000 tons harvested, only 61,300 were processed.
As for what this year might bring as far as Valencias overall value, all Blakely can say at this point is that at the state-wide level, the Valencia price is continuing to drop as the harvest season continues.