The abnormally cool 2010 California spring that delayed harvest seasons for stone fruit, table grapes and other San Joaquin Valley commodities turned out to be a plus for the valley’s citrus grower-shippers.
The citrus groves thrived on the weather.
“The industry is looking at a larger tree crop with somewhat smaller sizes,” said Tom Wollenman, general manager of LoBue Bros. Inc. “We’re very, very optimistic about general fruit quality.”
The larger crop is due to heavier sets for virtually all the citrus category: navels, mandarins, lemons, minneolas and others, he said. In addition, the crops should improve retail displays.
“We’ve had very little wind scarring and thrip damage,” Wollenman said. “Each category should be an attractive piece of fruit.”
The increased volume and clean crop view is shared by Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, said Claire Smith, director of corporate communications.
“We had extremely large sizes the last two years,” Wollenman said. “The sizes this season should be more along historical averages.”
As with other California fruit crops this year, harvesting could start a bit later than usual. But early season navels should begin shipping in late October, Wollenman said.
“The industry has planted lots of fukumoto navels in Kern County,” he said. “Because the fukimotos are an early variety, retailers can expect an almost normal start-up.”
Shipping of clementines from Fruit Patch Sales Inc., Dinuba, expects to start in mid-November, said Sheri Mierau, vice president of sales and marketing. And they will have a new look.
“We’re designing a new clementine bag that we will launch this season under our Juicy Sweet label,” she said.
The first of the Sunkist navels will be shipping about Nov. 1, which means consumers will have plenty of citrus for the year-end holidays, Smith said.
Among the late fall citrus choices from Sunkist will be a cara cara crop that should be up as much as 20% over last season’s volume.
“This low-acid, great-flavored power orange, which is high in lycopene, is gaining great favor with consumers and winning new fans each season,” Smith said.
To meet the demand, Sunkist growers have been increasing acreage in recent years and more of the groves are maturing, she said. Harvesting of cara caras is scheduled to begin in December.
The biggest increase, from a percentage standpoint, in this season’s Sunkist inventory could be for organic navels.
Because more acreage has gained organic certification, Sunkist anticipates a 40% increase in organic navels, Smith said.
As the season approaches, major modifications are under way at LoBue Bros.
The company’s cold storage facilities and bagging areas are being upgraded and retrofitted.
“We’ll be getting more footprint to do specialty bags and boxes, and we’ll increase cold storage capacity by increasing the racking from two pallets high to three pallets high,” Wollenman said.
The improvements will be made inside a new steel building, he said, that will be climate controlled to create a better working environment for packing line workers and to minimize sweating of fruit brought from cold storage for packaging.
Also being upgraded is a packing line installed just two years ago, “because we were not completely satisfied with its performance,” Wollenman said.