Plenty of California navels at midseason

California citrus growers are about halfway through harvesting a large crop with a wide size range.

That should allow retailers to aggressively market smaller-sized fruit in bags this spring.

Joel Nelsen, strategic advisor for the California Citrus Mutual, said March 15, that now that the early season inconsistency is out of the way, consumer demand is picking up.

“Consumers know it’s all California in the market now, and it’s more consistent flavor,” he said.

He said buyers can find larger sizes, but there’s an abundance of smaller fruit, and it’s creating a price difference.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service reported March 14 navel orange prices of $20-25 for cartons of 48-56s, $15-19 for 72s, $11-14 for 88s and $9-12 for 113s. Mid-February prices were about $5 less on 48-72s, but the same for 88s and 113s.

Christina Ward, director of communications for Sunkist Growers, said the group’s growers are harvesting “an abundance of fruit this season, and Mother Nature delivered a large production on just about every Sunkist citrus variety. Sunkist offers customizable promotional and merchandising programs that support the ample volumes available this season.”

Nelsen said the California navel orange season should last until the Independence Day holiday, but late winter weather is warming up, and that could cause the crop to mature more rapidly.

“We’ve had lots of rain, which is good in the long run,” he said. “We need to get the fruit off the trees before it falls off.”

Ward said Sunkist volume is up across all citrus categories.

“Oranges, mandarins, and Minneola tangelos have larger crops with smaller fruit sizes, and as a result, it’s a great season to promote bagged citrus,” she said. “We have the ability to cater to our customers’ unique needs, and we take this customizable approach to drive demand.”

Nelsen said exports are starting to pick up, especially to South Korea and Canada, and that’s relieving some price pressure in the domestic market. But because of trade disputes with China, exports there are down 75 percent from last year.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services