VERO BEACH, Fla. — A better spring bloom is bringing sweeter fruit and Florida citrus growers are looking for a better season than last year.

Though heavy rains in September and early October delayed the harvest’s start, they moved past the challenges and in early and mid-November reported favorable fall growing conditions.

In October, many retailers finished import programs and transitioned to Florida fruit. As the deal moves into later November and December, retailers can expect promotable volume on navels, tangerines, tangelos, grapefruit and juice oranges, said Al Finch, president of Dundee-based Florida Classic Growers, which markets for the Dundee Citrus Growers Association.

“Due to the fact that we didn’t have the multiple blooms we had in the prior season, overall, the fruit appearance is clean,” he said in mid-November.

“The fruit quality has been exceptional and demand has been good, especially on tangerines. We anticipate having a good Florida citrus season.”

Florida Classic anticipates packing similar volume as last year as opposed to expected lighter overall industry volume, Finch said.

On Oct. 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted Florida navels will decline 22%, grapefruit, 4%, and tangerines, 12%, while valencias are expected to see increased production from the previous season.

 

Grapefruit

For grapefruit, the season started with higher quality fruit, said Pat Rodgers, president of Greene River Marketing Inc.

“If our start is any indication of how the season’s going to go, it looks like we are in for a good season,” he said in mid-November.

“As the holidays start, we should see some really good retail movement and it will be a very good business time for the Florida citrus industry.”

Grapefruit taste is high, said Matt Reel, director of sales for IMG Citrus Inc.

“We had a little later start but the internal quality of the fruit is excellent and we are packing fruit now that in some seasons we wouldn’t see those internal qualities until December and January,” he said in mid-November.

This season should be one of the best, said Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Packing Co. LLC.

“We will have January taste quality throughout the season,” he said. “We haven’t had such high quality in the last few years so this will be a very important year for us. We anticipate a very good eating quality all season long.”

Overall, packouts are higher and the sweeter fruit should encourage repeat shopper purchases, said Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for Fort Pierce-based DNE World Fruit Sales.

“We have some very nice looking fruit and the brix are high to where the fruit is eating very well right out of the shoot,” he said in mid-November.

Because of extra spraying and grove care growers must undertake to battle crop diseases, Swords said buyers can expect this season to bring higher prices but said volume should remain adequate for promotions of each variety.

 

Navels

The start of navel harvesting again saw a short supplied crop this season but the early fruit packed by Seald Sweet International showed high quality, Dave Brocksmith, Florida citrus manager, said in early November.

“Even though the official USDA estimate was down across the board and we still see a contracting supply, we have promotable volumes and a very clean piece of fruit, especially in the oranges and grapefruit,” Brocksmith said. “We have enough fruit to offer promotional pricing.”

Cooler evenings were also helping mature fruit, said Russell Kiger, sales manager of DLF International Inc.

“We are out of the earlier tangerine varieties and are looking forward with some optimism,” he said in early November. “The cool weather has colored the fruit up a bit and there is optimism in terms of fruit quality, size and flavor. It’s much better this season than last year.”

In early November, the Oviedo-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. enjoyed high quality with its red grapefruit, said Jason Bedsole, sales manager of Eastern vegetables and citrus.

“We are seeing very good quality and I’m pleased with the size profile,” he said in early November.

“Acceptance has been very good and customers are pleased with the fruit appearance and shape. Taste will continue to improve as we move farther into November, December and January.”

Duda was able to ship Gulf citrus earlier this season than usual, Bedsole said.

The season is bringing smaller overall sizings, said Steve Kiral, fresh fruit sales manager for Uncle Matt’s Organic Inc., Clermont.

“We’re not seeing that so much this year. Overall, production may be down a little more than what we would like, but we will see good quality on the fruit.”