(Aug. 16) Florida should again produce a smaller-than-normal citrus crop this year, but volumes are expected to increase as grower-shippers recover from last year’s hurricanes.

Though major shippers report the season will start on time, the season may also start volume a little later than normal for others, according to a major growers group.

Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla., said the state’s grapefruit production should increase 40% to 50% from last season.

Tangerine production should remain the same as last year, Swords said. Though navels are expected to decline 10% to 15%, because of a lighter crop set, shippers shouldn’t have any worries about being able to cover business, he said.

“We have a much cleaner crop this season, fruit sizing is larger and overall volume is good,” Swords said. “The message to get out there is Florida citrus is back, and we want everyone to feel comfortable in promoting both with consistent quality and volume as well as more aggressive pricing to get the right retail price for movement at store level.”

DNE expects to start its fallglo tangerines Sept. 18 and its navels in early to mid-October. Swords said grapefruit volume should come on in a limited way in mid-October with tangerines entering at the end of the month.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture hadn’t released its first estimate of the 2006-07 Florida citrus crop in mid-August.

Several private forecasters, however, in mid-August estimated a 155 million to 175 million box orange crop, 32% less than the 226 million box average crop the state produced from 2000-04. Last season, Florida produced 151 million boxes of oranges.

About 4% of Florida’s oranges, half of its specialty oranges — such as tangerines — and 40% of its grapefruit ship fresh.

Though grapefruit and specialty citrus aren’t included in the private forecasts, Bob Barber, director of economics and market information for Florida Citrus Mutual, Lakeland, said he is hearing estimates of 24 million to 30 million boxes for grapefruit. That’s 21% higher than last season’s 19 million boxes but still lower than the state’s usual 45 million box production.

Like last season, picking in volume should begin in late September, about two to three weeks behind normal, Barber said. Volume should pick up in October, Barber said.

CENTRAL FLORIDA

The 106 grower members of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association, Dundee, Fla., expect to start picking fresh grapefruit in central Florida on Sept. 15.

“From what I see, grapefruit quality is excellent,” said Lindsay Raley, the association’s president and chairman of the board. “Aside from the dry weather, we have had ideal growing conditions this spring. We will have a really nice crop.”

Dundee’s grapefruit production, which is marketed through Diversified Citrus Marketing, Lake Hamilton, Fla., should increase by 10%, Raley said.

Sizing on all varieties should increase and therefore boost packouts, Swords said. The smaller-than-normal fruit the past two seasons, particularly on tangerines, produced smaller packout percentages and wasn’t high enough or in enough volume for DNE to pack in its Ocean Spray fresh brand, he said.

Statewide, grapefruit, valencia and tangerine sizing should be up, said Bobby Bishop, vice president of harvesting and fruit procurement for Statewide Harvesting & Handling LLC, Lake Hamilton, Fla., a division of Dundee.

Diversified plans to ship 3.5 million packs of citrus this season.

The first USDA forecast is scheduled for Oct. 12.