With a lighter navel orange crop this year in California, valencias could hit the summer market in volume sooner.

“The estimate on navels was 85 million cartons, but with smaller fruit size and losses to January freezes, it was closer to 75 million,” said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

Valencias were already shipping in small quantities in March, mainly for export.

“Domestic shipments will build starting in June as the navel season winds down,” said Claire Smith, director of corporate communications for Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers.

“Navels are lighter, but we’re still going through June, as far as I hear,” Blakely said.

The production estimate on this year’s valencia crop is 28 million 40-pound cartons, according to the California Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s up modestly from last year’s estimate of 26 million, but not every grower-shipper expects higher volume from their own operation.

Despite the raised production estimate, bearing acres on valencias fell from 41,000 to 40,000.

“Our crop on valencias is down,” said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing at Orange Cove, Calif.-based Booth Ranches LLC. “Last year we were about 60,000 bins. This year we’re below 50,000. I think the fruit is going to be smaller.”

He said Booth Ranches valencias will run to mid-May. Then there will be four weeks of late navels, finishing in mid-June, a little earlier than last year.

Randy Jacobson, sales manager at Orange Cove-based Cecelia Packing Corp., said his valencias would start in late April and run into September.

Mandarins, cara caras

California Citrus Mutual’s Blakely expects mandarins to finish in April.

“That season will end early,” he said in March. The crop was about 50% in when freezes hit groves in January. Growers lost 25% to 30% of what remained, Blakely said. Most of the damage was to the w. murcott variety.

But as others were winding down, Cecelia Packing started production of its Dimples mandarins in early April. The company sees a niche for a late mandarin, said Jacobson, who expects Dimples volume to be up 30% a year after its introduction.

If valencias are something of a niche variety, mandarins and cara caras are still on the rise, Sunkist’s Smith said.

“Acreage increases are being seen in the increasingly popular mandarin varieties and in the cara cara navel,” Smith said.

“We expect to see continued growth in the popularity and availability of cara caras as new acreage begins to bear and distribution increases.”