California’s near record December rainfall continued to haunt citrus grower-shippers into late January.
Thick fog, made denser by the moisture from the saturated soil, left navels, cara caras and specialty citrus fruit drenched in condensation most mornings. Harvest crews were forced to wait until the moisture evaporated to start picking the fruit — and some days could not pick at all, grower-shippers said.
Shippers continued to fill most domestic orders, but offshore customers were not as fortunate.
“There’s enough fruit out here, no doubt, but the exports are what everybody is trying to fill,” Jeff Olsen, vice president of The Chuck Olsen Co., Visalia, said Jan. 31. “Domesticwise, there seems to be availability on nearly everything right now.”
Fungus grows on fruit that is picked and packed while still wet and becomes a major problem for offshore shipments, he said. Because delivery is much quicker to domestic customers, small amounts of moisture on the fruit rarely cause problems.
As January ended, some growers were shipping fruit picked earlier in the month.
“We’ve been selling off inventory to cover all of my orders,” Andrew Felts, sales manager for Wileman Bros. & Elliott Inc., Cutler, said Jan. 31. “If we are not able to pick tomorrow, we are going to have the situation where supply does not meet demand.”
The good news for growers and consumers, alike, was that less fog and more sun were anticipated during the first 10 days of February.
Because of the San Joaquin Valley’s numerous microclimates in the citrus growing regions, not all groves have been affected uniformly.
“We haven’t run into too many snags,” said Fred Valentino, a salesman at RJO Produce Marketing, Fresno.
RJO Produce sells navels and specialty citrus to domestic customers only, he said.
The navel, cara cara and specialty citrus acreage of Reedley-based Brandt Farms Inc. has encountered harvest delays, but customers have not been affected, said Michael Reimer, vice president of sales.
“We haven’t had to turn down orders,” he said. “But we’d like to be picking more than we are.”
Fog is the biggest problem for Mulholland Citrus, Orange Cove, but there are other concerns for the specialty citrus-focused company, said Fred Berry, marketing director.
“We’re also fighting two other things: color on some fields and the sugar/acid ratio in other fields,” he said.
Despite the fog, overnight temperatures have been warmer than normal, and citrus fruit needs colder weather for color.
The conditions have interrupted some Mulholland Citrus shipping, Berry said Jan 31.
“It has not been fun this last week or so,” he said. “We should be picking and packing a whole lot more fruit. We’re passing on orders and pushing orders.”
Wileman Bros. & Elliott had a similar problem with exports.
“We had orders for 25 loads (for week of Jan. 31), but we’ll probably end up shipping only about 15,” Felts said.
Another by-product of the fog is that some fruit was ready to be harvested as much as three weeks ago, Felts said. Some of that fruit has begun to drop, he said.
“If the weather warms up and continues to stay warm and sunny, we could have quality problems,” Felts said.