VERO BEACH, Fla. — This season is bringing higher quality grapefruit and buyers should expect adequate volumes for winter promotions.
Last season, growers experienced about 60% packouts during the early harvesting and the rate remained steady throughout the year before declining to 40%.
In many cases this season, growers began harvesting with 90% packouts, said Pat Rodgers, president of Greene River Marketing Inc.
He expects the season’s low packout rate to be 75%.
“We had a strong start of the season with much better quality than last year,” Rodgers said in mid-November. “We have much better sizings, and we are seeing much better early internal and external fruit quality. Early on, we are having much better brix and good ratios a lot sooner than last year.”
Rodgers said the crop is peaking on 36s and 32s while offering plenty of 23s and 27s.
After heavy September and early October rains, IMG Citrus Inc. began harvesting grapefruit Oct. 7, about two weeks later than normal, and didn’t begin promotable volume until mid-November, said Matt Reel, director of sales.
“From what I have seen so far, it looks like in the external appearances, as far as melanose and other defects, we are seeing a lot cleaner fruit, though we always have to deal with wind scar,” he said in mid-November.
In early and mid-November, IMG was finishing its spot picking and sizes were peaking on 36s and 40s while harvesting plenty of 27s and 32s. In December, Reel said he expects sizings to trend more to the smaller ones, the 40s and 48s.
A uniform spring bloom is helping the fruit, said Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Packing Co. LLC.
“The fruit eating quality is now eating like January quality, almost like the peak of season flavor. We will be able to supply consumers with good-looking and good-eating fruit all year.”
Because California had finished and Florida didn’t harvest significant volumes in late September and early October, demand exceeded supply.
As Florida growers began harvesting, it didn’t take long to fill the pipeline, which caused a glut and prices began to fall, said Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for Fort Pierce-based DNE World Fruit Sales.
“Now that we are at stable production, pricing should remain steady,” he said in early November.
“The market has stabilized to where the retailers should be able to put some good pricing out there for promotions.”
On Nov. 10, Rodgers quoted 4/5-bushel cartons of 23s and 27s averaging $11-13, while 36s and above were averaging $8-10.
The Florida citrus industry does not provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture with f.o.b. prices.
Russell Kiger, sales manager of DLF International Inc., anticipates better movement as the deal moves into the holiday season.
“The fruit looks good and is much higher quality than last year,” he said in early November.
“Demand should remain steady until we get into January when the after-holiday shopping starts and everyone begins to think about losing weight.”
In central Florida, the consistent bloom is helping growers in the Dundee Citrus Growers Association, which market their fruit through Dundee-based Florida Classic Growers, harvest promotable volume.
“Overall, the fruit has been clean,” Al Finch, Florida Classic’s president, said in mid-November.
“Not having the multiple blooms we experienced last season has helped with the overall fruit appearance.”
Grapefruit quality remains high, said Dave Brocksmith, Florida citrus manager for Seald Sweet International.
“In doing this deal for 23 years, I am hard-pressed to remember when we’ve had such a handsome crop,” he said. “It looks really good.”
Clermont-based Uncle Matt’s Organic Inc. planned to begin harvesting in mid-November, as usual.
“They have a nice exterior so far and the interior is looking real good,” Steve Kiral, fresh fruit sales manager, said in early November. “The supply will be down a little this season but we will go into February like we did last year.”
The Indian River region typically finishes packing promotable volume by mid-April.