VERO BEACH, Fla. — The 2012-13 Florida citrus season opened with higher grapefruit, orange and tangerine volume. However, the state expects a 17% drop in navel production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Oct. 11 first-season forecast.

Despite the smaller navel volume, buyers should expect strong promotions for Florida citrus, said Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce.

“We have had a very good start to the season,” he said. “Our customers are doing a lot of good promotions on fallglos and navels. We have even done some isolated grapefruit promotions. It has been a strong start dodging some of the weather we’ve had here and there.”

Growers in the Dundee Citrus Growers Association began harvesting fallglo tangerines and navels in mid-September.

Enough for retailers to promote

Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for Dundee-based Florida Classic Growers, Dundee’s marketing arm, said the volume should make for strong retail promotions.

“There has been good demand for tangerines, navels and the juicing oranges,” Finch said. “Red grapefruit also continues to be in demand. Overall appearance and eating quality are excellent this year. We have found retailers have been very anxious to get started in Florida citrus this season. Indications are from lots of our retail groups, the imported summer citrus program didn’t go as well as planned. Many were ready to get started into Florida citrus.”

Dundee began transitioning from the early fallglo tangerines to the sunburst variety in late October.

Consistent volume likely

Dave Brocksmith, Florida program manager for Seald Sweet International, said the season began a week or two earlier than normal. The deal should bring more consistent volume, he said.

“There will be less competitive pressure from the juice processors, so we will have more fruit to be utilized in fresh pack” he said in late October. “The buyers should be looking for nice volumes to promote. We have more and very promotable volumes this year that we didn’t have last year across the board.”

On grapefruit, growers saw a typical season start, said Matt Reel, director of sales for IMG Citrus Inc.

IMG began harvesting in late September.

“We started faster than usual because the market was empty when we started,” Reel said in early November. “Quality is good and, the eating quality is just getting better as each peak passes.”

Doug Feek, president of DLF International Inc., said growers began harvesting earlier than normal this year, the second week of September versus the typical mid- to late September start.

“We are seeing really good demand on the small fruit this year,” Feek said. “The overall navel crop is down but the quality is up. We, however, have a little more than we had last year and are up 20% on the navels. The brix is high this year, and the taste is really good.”

While honey tangerines normally start in early January because of an earlier-than-expected season start for all Florida citrus, honey tangerines may also finish earlier than normal, said Quentin Roe, president of Noble World Wide, the sales division of Wm. G. Roe & Sons Inc., Winter Haven.

Typically, honey tangerines end in April, but this season they may finish by late March, Roe said.

Buyers should expect a strong honey tangerine crop, he said.

“Honeys will be a nice, quality crop,” Roe said. “They look to be a very clean crop, and the sizing is ahead of normal. We have a lot of expectations for the honey crop being a very good crop.”

Roe said honey tangerine sizings are on the larger end of the continuum in a decade of sizing records.

On organic oranges, the season started about two weeks earlier than normal, the earliest ever for Clermont-based Uncle Matt’s Organic Inc., said Matt McLean, chief executive officer.

“Retailers should expect a very good, uniform crop with good quality,” McLean said. “We should have a good supply from start to finish. Supply is uniform to a little above average.”