(Jan. 17) Florida grower-shippers say they’re ready to help fill voids caused by California’s devastating freeze, and more of the state’s processed oranges may ship fresh.

Richard Kinney, executive vice president of the Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Packers Inc., a trade group representing the state’s fresh packers, empathized with California growers.

Though he said it will be difficult to predict how much of the state’s oranges may ship fresh, Kinney estimates a 25% increase in orange and tangerine movement.

“We’re getting phone calls from traditional California customers,” Kinney said. “We will try to fill those orders. We have a great deal of demand for tangerines already and will see a little more domestic movement than what would we would traditionally see for grapefruit.”

For grapefruit, the domestic market should have a bigger pull this season, Kinney said. He said he expects 10% to 15% more U.S. shipments. Traditionally, more Florida grapefruit is shipped to overseas buyers.

Mike Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, said the citrus state is recovering from its own natural disasters. Production is beginning to rebound after hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

“Our volume is up from the prior two years, which were very low years,” he said. “But that volume is not as great as some of our historic levels. Still, we have a good looking and high-quality piece of fruit.”

Florida is the largest citrus-producing state. About 40% of the state’s grapefruit normally ships to fresh market buyers. Half of the state’s tangerines typically go fresh. Less than 5% of Florida’s oranges ship fresh.

Florida is expected to ship 171.7 million boxes of citrus this season, about 2% less than last season’s 174.8 million boxes but 39% less than the state’s historical 281 million box yearly total citrus production.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts Florida will harvest 26 million boxes of grapefruit this season, 35% higher than last season’s 19.3 million boxes but far below the state’s typical 45 million box average.