Exports account for about 25% of California’s navel orange volume — or about 17 million to 19 million cartons — said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.
“We’re always looking to export,” said Jeff Olsen, president of Visalia, Calif.-based Chuck Olsen Co.
Early this fall, buyers in several foreign countries were seeking U.S. lemons, which were in short supply, he said.
“It should be a very good year on lemon exports,” Olsen said, adding that the export navel deal also should be strong.
Chuck Olsen Co. exports to Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia, the Philippines and South Korea.
Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., Kingsburg, Calif., exports “if the market is there,” said David Stone, an owner of the company.
“Our job as a marketer is to bring the highest returns to our growers,” he said.
The firm’s export destinations include several Far Eastern markets, such as Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, Calif., exports navels and mandarins, said salesman John Senn.
The company typically ships navel oranges to Japan, South Korea and China and exports mandarins primarily to Japan and Australia.
One thing that has become more prominent over the past couple of years has been increased emphasis on brix levels, Senn said.
“They’re trying to get the highest brix-level fruit that they can find,” he said, and he calls that requirement unfortunate.
“It’s got to be a combination of the brix and acid levels in the fruit,” he said.
California navels have such a good reputation in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea, that Moonlight Packing Corp., Reedley, Calif., can charge a premium for fruit it sends there, said Tina Haga, export sales manager.
The company exports about 15% of its navels.
Johnston Farms, Edison, Calif., exports about half of its navel oranges, said partner Dennis Johnston.
“It continues to be a very good market for us,” he said.
Australia, New Zealand and South Korea are the company’s primary export destinations, but new opportunities are on the horizon.
“South America is starting to buy more of our navels,” Johnston said.
Easy peelers are “definitely gaining in popularity” in places like Australia, New Zealand, South America and Mexico, said Fred Berry, director of marketing for Mulholland Citrus, Orange Cove, Calif., which grows clementines and mandarins.
Buyers in certain countries have exacting criteria for the citrus they import.
Hong Kong likes a heavy pack for its navels, Olsen said.
“We notch up our size a little bit for the box,” he said.
Japan and South Korea buyers seek a higher grade that is “cleaner and a little bit better than our domestic fancy fruit,” he said.
Export customers of Valhalla Sales & Marketing demand the same thing as domestic customers, Stone said. “It’s all about taste.”
Buyers of California navel and valencia oranges in South Korea, Japan, the Middle East and Southeast Asia seek high-quality fruit, said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, Calif., where exports are a lucrative deal.
“They demand the absolute best you have, and they’re willing to pay for it,” he said.
Phytosanitary barriers are issues in some countries.
“Australia is tough on certain bugs,” Johnston said.
In fact, fruit destined for Down Under must be precleared before it leaves the U.S., he said, to ensure that is free of pests and complies with maximum residue limit requirements.
China banned orange shipments from the U.S. last April because of concerns about brown rot detected in a few shipments of California oranges.
“They found a (type) of brown rot that they claim they don’t have over there,” Johnston said.
Chile objects to the use of morpholine, a chemical compound used as an emulsifier in the wax coating that is applied to oranges.
Likely starting next season, South Korea will require California navels to be treated with methyl bromide before being shipped in order to prevent Fuller rose beetle eggs from hitchhiking on the fruit.