(Feb. 18) Larger sizing has led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase its estimate of the Florida valencia orange crop.

Meanwhile, the state’s citrus shippers say the USDA’s estimate of Florida’s grapefruit crop is still too high. Like Florida, Texas expects its grapefruit season to end early.

In California, rains have limited production and increased markets for navel oranges. Lemon prices have decreased slightly.

As of Feb. 11, the USDA revised its estimate of the Florida valencia crop to 86 million 90-pound boxes, up 2% from the January forecast but 16% below last season. The USDA attributed the increase to larger sizing of the fruit.

Although Florida’s crop is down this season, prices were low enough in mid-February that most of the fruit could go to juice contracts, said Don Kershbaum, vice president of sales for Graves Bros. Co., Wabasso, Fla.

F.o.b.s for 4/5-bushel cartons of valencias were at $6.50 on Feb. 17, he said.

“That’s too low to merit packing it fresh for us,” Kershbaum said.

The USDA’s estimate for Florida grapefruit stayed steady at 40 million 85-pound boxes, down from last season’s 46.7 million. Kershbaum said 4/5-bushel cartons of red grapefruit were selling for $7-7.50.

Kershbaum said Florida’s crop is still shorter than what the USDA was reporting.

David Mixon, vice president of DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla., agreed. He said the estimate for the state’s red grapefruit, which makes up 24 million boxes of this season’s estimate, is 10-15% too high.

Kershbaum said f.o.b.s for the state’s grapefruit have been stable but should begin to rise, particularly on smaller sizes, as supplies diminish.

By mid-March, some packers should finish for the season, he said. Usually, the season goes at least until mid-May, but that won’t happen this season, he said.

Kershbaum reported 4/5 cartons of grapefruit sized 32s and larger at $7-7.50.

Ray Prewett, executive vice president of Texas Citrus Mutual, Mission, Texas, said the Texas grapefruit season could end as early as May 10-15. In years past, the season has gone into early June.

The UDSA has estimated Texas’ grapefruit crop at 5.6 million 80-pound boxes, down from 5.9 million last season. Still, Prewett said there are doubts over whether the industry will reach the USDA’s estimate.

In California, rains the second week of February tightened supplies of navel oranges, which helped strengthen markets, said Randy Jacobson, sales manager for Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif. On Feb. 17, f.o.b.s for cartons of U.S. Fancy 88s ranged $6-7. That may have been an increase of 50 cents from a few days before, he said.

“But when you get down to these prices, you’ll take any incremental increase you can get,” Jacobson said. “Quarters look good.”

This season’s California navel crop, which should continue shipping strong into late May, has higher volumes this season, he said. The USDA estimates California navels at 40 million 75-pound boxes, up from 34 million last season.

Jacboson said the navels have been peaking at 88s, compared to last season’s 56s.

Though the rains have helped firm up navel pricing, markets may not hold against the pressure to keep moving fruit, said Mike Roberts, salesman for Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co., Lindsay, Calif. Though there haven’t been any arrival problems so far, shippers say the threat of quality problems will increase as warmer weather arrives.

Roberts said prices for California lemons have come down on larger sizes. He reported 40-pound cartons of 63s and 75s at $12.50. Size 95 and 115 lemons were selling $10.50, he said.