Navel orange crop could be near record
The California Department of Food and Agriculture had good news for the approximately 2,000 people who make their living in the orange industry locally — the 2012 Navel orange crop is shaping up to be one of the largest.
The USDA reported last week that the initial 2012-13 crop forecast is for 93 million cartons of oranges hanging on the trees statewide, 90 million cartons in the Central Valley counties of Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kings.
But, when it comes to Navel oranges, Tulare County is king, noted Bob Blakely, director of industry relations with California Citrus Mutual. “Tulare has the largest acreage of all four (counties),” he pointed out. CCM is a trade organization based in Exeter.
In the 2011 Tulare County Crop report, it was noted that there were 76,700 harvested acres of Navel oranges with a value of slightly more than $468 million, down from the $505 million crop from 2010.
This year’s crop could exceed that value.
The forecast is for the crop to be up 6% from last year and according to Blakely, the crop is slightly ahead of last year in terms of maturity and size.
However, it is not that the crop will top the record 96 million carton crop of 2010.
Navel orange acreage and value has been rising for several years. The 2009 crop was 80 million cartons and there were 69 million cartons in 2008. Last year’s crop value of $505 million was a record.
Blakely said the number of acres planted in Navel oranges grew for several years, but has leveled off the past two years. What has dropped is the number of acres in Valencia oranges, a crop that is being harvested right now. The mandarin orange crop has grown, at the expense of the Valencia and now ranks second to Navels.
This year’s crop is sizing up nicely.
“We have a really good bloom last spring and during the hot, dry summer, it grew well,” said Blakely. Summer heat is actually beneficial for Navel oranges in that it helps to make the oranges sweeter. Blakely said the oranges are sizing well.
“Hot weather brings on maturity. The cold brings on the color,” he said.
The first Navel oranges are still several weeks away from harvest. Typically, the harvest begins in Tulare County in early November, give or take a week or two.
While a large crop can affect prices, Blakely said that does not appear to be the case right now. He said quality is a bigger issue and the new sweetness standards should help to bring consumers back for more as the season progresses. Navel oranges will be harvested well into 2013.
“Those new standards, called the CaliforniaStandard, will improve consistency,” Blakely said.
The only concern right now, except for any possible cold temperatures this winter, is an adequate labor supply to begin the harvest. If the fruit comes off too early, orange growers will be competing with other crops still being harvested for that labor force.
The USDA also projected the walnut and cotton crops for this year.
Walnuts – The 2012 California walnut production is forecast at 470 thousand tons, up 2 percent from the 2011 production of 461 thousand tons. Bearing acreage is unchanged from 2011 at 245 thousand acres, resulting in a yield of 1.92 tons per acre. The San Joaquin Valley set is 1,120, up slightly from last year, and the Sacramento Valley set is 1,582, down 1 percent from last year. The percentage of sound kernels in-shell was 98.0 percent statewide.
Cotton - Upland cotton production in California is forecast at 495 thousand bales, down 11 percent from the 2011 crop, and up 5 percent from the August 1 forecast. Harvested acreage is estimated at 141 thousand acres, down 5 percent from the previous forecast. At first glance, the high fruit numbers would seem to be of concern for the Valley’s navel orange industry.