Posted: Friday, March 15, 2013 10:53 AM
Tim Hearden/Capital Press
Navel orange sections fill a snacking plate. California growers are a little more than halfway through their harvest of navels, while the season's first valencias are coming off the trees.
By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO - Although no significant tree damage was reported from winter freezes, California's valencia orange production this spring and summer is expected to continue a downward trend.
About 25 million cartons are expected from this year's harvest, down from 27 million cartons last year, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service office here.
By comparison, the Golden State saw a 48 million carton valencia crop in 2000 and produced 41 million cartons as recently as 2005. But acreage has been declining as growers switch to more lucrative varieties, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
"They've gone into mandarins, other special varieties or navels," Blakely said. "There really is not much of a market for fresh valencias domestically anymore.
"With navel season extended into the summer now and followed on its heels by navels coming in from the southern hemisphere, navel oranges are a year-round commodity," he said. "And navels have always been a more desirable fresh-eating orange."
NASS published its projection after randomly sampling 527 valencia orange groves this winter. Measurements indicated a normal crop year, the agency reported, adding that cold winter temperatures did not appear to negatively impact the crop.
Overall, the mid-January cold snap that gripped key growing regions in the Central Valley appeared to cause only minimal damage to citrus crops, according to Citrus Mutual.
Growers spent more than $30 million this season deploying wind machines to keep the warm air closer to the ground and irrigation to raise the temperature in the groves, CCM explained.
The first valencias started coming off trees last week, as growers were a little more than halfway through their harvest of this season's anticipated 93 million carton navel crop. California's navel harvest begins in the fall and runs until the following early summer.
Growers are reporting good quality of navels, although some of the fruit is a little small, Blakely said.
"We'd still like to see this fruit grow some more," he said. "The biggest problem is we've got an abundance of small sizes. It's been a little hard moving the small sizes."
2012-13 California Valencia Orange Objective Measurement Report: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Fruits_and_Nuts/201303valom.pdf
California Citrus Mutual: http://www.cacitrusmutual.com/