Navel harvest has begun

The navel harvest has begun in the Central Valley. California Citrus Mutual says the crop will be lighter than a year and so far what they are seeing is fruit with good size and quality.

CCM: Fruit has good size and quality

It’s early in the season, but the navel harvest in the Central Valley is off to a good start.

“We are only three weeks into it, but it’s been a really good start to the navel season,” said Bob Blakely, vice president of California Citrus Mutual in Exeter. “The fruit that is coming off is good size and quality. I think most growers are pretty happy.”

Blakely adds that overall production is forecasted to be down from 2016. 

“The crop is down this year, but supplies will be very adequate at the beginning of the season and we don’t expect to see any disruption due to the lighter crop,” Blakely said. “I think we are going to have plenty of fruit to meet the holiday demand.”

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the 2017-18 navel orange forecast for the entire state is 70 million cartons, with the Central Valley — Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties — accounting for an estimated 68 million cartons.

In 2016-17, the Central Valley navel harvest came in at 75.6 million cartons. A carton is equivalent to 40 pounds.

Last year in Tulare County, 78,800 acres of harvested navels produced 49.4 million cartons.

The drought continues to impact the citrus industry as less acres are in production, but this year the navel crop was hurt by the welcomed storms during the last rain season.

“The series of storms that came through during bloom effected fruit set,” Blakely said. “Not down as much in Kern, but as we move through Fresno and Tulare production will be down.”

According to the CDFA, the average fruit set per tree for the Central Valley as of Sept. 1 was 273, down from 384 the prior year.

Less navels being produced can be a good thing for growers, Blakely said.

“Growers are expecting prices to be good this year. With the lighter crop, they usually see better prices,” Blakely said, adding that will likely mean consumers will be paying more.

According to the Tulare County crop report, navels were valued at $657 million. Combined with Valencias, the total value of oranges was $838 million, second-highest in the county behind milk.

Over the past 3 years, 80 percent of California’s orange crop was comprised of navel and miscellaneous varieties, with Valencia oranges accounting for the remaining proportion.

Most of the picking of navels “is currently taking place in Kern County,” Blakely said, “A few early blocks are being picked in Tulare County.”

The first major storm that was forecasted to move through the area this weekend and the subsequent cooler temperatures are expected to be beneficial to growers.

“It will be cold, but not damaging,” Blakely said. “This time of year, we’d like to see the cold. It brings out the natural color and sugar. Nights down in the 30s and 40s would be ideal.”

Picking will continue to ramp up between now and the end of the year. The navel harvest typically runs from mid-autumn until the following summer.

“All in all it’s been a positive start,” Blakely said. “The pace of harvesting is picking up and will continue to increase through the holidays.”

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