(June 20) Damage from torrential rains have added to the woes faced by South African citrus growers, and will further limit North American navel supplies this summer, importers predict.

A week of rain in early June drenched groves and swelled rivers, flooding fields. The rains, combined with continued problems with pests, have led to a second downsizing of the 2007 crop estimate, said Tom Cowan, South African citrus sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla.

In the first week of June, Cowan pegged the crop at about 1.5 million boxes, down from 1.7 million, the first estimate for the season. By mid-June, the flooding and finds of coddling moth and two other pests had knocked the estimate down to about 1.2 million boxes, he said.

“There will be a few gaps in July,” he said. “Navel ads will be restricted. Later on in August, things will probably be better.”

Navel shipments from South Africa could be down 40% to 50% as a result of the rain and pests, said David Mixon, senior vice president of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet International.

“It’s not good,” he said. “Growers are going to lose a lot of their crop. For three weeks, supplies will be very limited. And they will never hit critical mass.”

To brace for the navel shortage, Seald Sweet is working closely with its California shippers on filling the gap with valencias, Mixon said.

On June 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $18-20 for 7/10-bushel cartons of valencias size 48-56 from California, up from $14-15 last year at the same time.