(Nov. 1) A late-October rain disrupted the early Central California navel season the first week of November, but shippers said harvest will pick up in mid-November.

Despite a projected 2 million box drop in production from the 2004-05 crop, to 84 million 37.5-pound boxes, it’s likely less fruit will be diverted from the fresh market this season.

“It’s down a little bit from last year’s crop, but because the quality’s better, we should pack about the same number of fresh cartons,” said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had no early-season navel f.o.b.s, but reported 7/10-bushel cartons of first-grade valencias on Oct. 28 were $8-10 for 48s, 56s, 72s, 88s and 138s, and 113s were $9-10. Last season, an abundance of larger sizes skewed the f.o.b.s, and the end-of-season prices ranged from $9 for 40s to $22 for 113s, according to the USDA’s Market News Service in mid-October.

“We’re just not seeing a lot of condition or grade defects showing in the field,” said Doug Sankey, sales manager at SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, Calif. “We did see a lot of that last year. We saw a lot of elongated fruit.”

Navel sizes will be a size smaller than last season, Sankey said, heavier to the 88s and 113s, followed by 72s.

Roy Bell, general manager of Cal Citrus Packing Co., Lindsay, Calif., said warmer weather during the summer helped bring a sweeter fruit this fall and winter.

SunWest started navel harvest Oct. 26, but the rains halted picking until the week of Oct. 31, Sankey said.

Tracy Berrigan, saleswoman for Sequoia Orange Co., Exeter, said cool nights in late October helped bring color to the oranges. Sequoia Orange will start to pack around Oct. 14, Berrigan said.

Shippers still need to hold the navels in degreening rooms for several days before shipping, Nelsen said.

Cal Citrus will start harvest by the second week of November, Bell said, and like many shippers, the company has established a late-season navel program that will extend shipping an extra month into June.

Nelsen said navel harvest is later this season, and shippers won’t have large volumes for Thanksgiving. Hurricane Wilma’s late-October damage to Florida groves probably won’t have much of an effect on California’s f.o.b.s, he said.