(July 26) First came bad weather. Now a defective ship engine has thrown another wrench in the Australian orange deal.

A small supply gap in early August is the expected result of a delay caused by an engine breakdown in a ship ferrying navels and minneolas from Down Under to the U.S., said Stu Monaghan, Australia sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla.

DNE has an exclusive agreement with Australia's government to import citrus to the U.S.

“The vessel is scheduled to land here on the 7th, and we should have fruit from the 10th,” he said. “We should have everyone covered, but we could be light for a couple of days.”

The delay did give exporters in Australia two extra days to load fruit, Monaghan said, which could compensate for the supply blip expected the first week in August.

The bad engine comes in a season when severe frosts have put a significant dent in Australia's orange crop. Both the Australian navel and minneola crops will be down about 20% this year because of frosts in the Murray Valley and Riverland regions.

The frosts have tightened the import deal considerably, Monaghan said.

By Aug. 30, retailers should have enough product to run promotions, Monaghan said. He expected promotions to last through September.

PRICES

On July 25, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $26-28 for 15-kilogram containers of South African navels 40-56, $24-26 for 64s, $22-26 for 72s and $22-24 for 80s.

Those prices are similar or slightly higher than last year at the same time, when 48-88s sold for $23-25.

About 692 million pounds of oranges had been shipped nationwide year-to-date, the USDA reported July 22, down from 829 million pounds last year at the same time.

The first ship bearing Australian navels docked in the U.S. on July 1, Monaghan said. The last shipment is expected to arrive Oct. 3.

Despite the weather-related problems, DNE is still projected to import 1.4 million 35-pound cartons of navels, about the same as last year, Monaghan said. Minneola volumes had been projected to grow about 15% this year, largely offsetting the fruit lost to frost.