VERO BEACH, Fla. — Last season’s cold weather has knocked out Florida navel volume and bumped up prices.

The trees reacted by producing a much lighter than normal crop this fall.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida this season is expected to pack 2.3 million boxes of navels, down 23% from last season’s crop. About 74% of Florida’s navels ship fresh.

Florida grower-shippers in October characterized navel supplies as tight.

Navel volume expected to decline

Doug Ohlemeier

Bobby Bawcum, president of Diversified Citrus Marketing, the Lake Hamilton, Fla.-based sales agency which markets for Dundee Citrus Growers Association, Dundee, Fla., inspects some fallglo tangerines in late September.
Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing, says the season has opened positively. He says there is more excitement in the air for starting this year’s Florida citrus than in years past.

David Mixon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Seald Sweet International, in late October quoted $16 f.o.b.s for navels and for oranges purchased for fresh-squeezed juicing.

“Now that we have limited volume, (the market) will have to start reflecting that increasing cost of doing business,” he said. “Costs are continuing to accelerate beyond belief with production care and traceability issues. Prices have never reflected that cost of doing business.”

The USDA on Oct. 23 reported 4/5 bushel cartons of Florida navels in Chicago selling for $20 for 56s and 64s and $18 for 80s.

That was similar to last year in late October when the USDA reported 4/5 bushel cartons of Florida navels in Chicago selling for $22 for 48s and 56s, $18-20 for 64s, $19-20 for 80s and $17-18 for 100s.

Pickings in central Florida, Florida’s leading orange and tangerine producing region, began in late September, with promotable volume starting in October.

Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for Diversified Citrus Marketing, the Lake Hamilton-based sales agency that markets for Dundee Citrus Growers Association, Dundee, said demand for Florida oranges has been strong.

“Even with the smaller navel crop, demand has been strong, moving right through the navels,” he said in late October.

Finch attributes some of the demand to high imported citrus prices.

Many retailers have been excited to start Florida fruit and have heavily promoted Florida fruit in October prior to California, which normally starts by early November.

Dundee’s growers normally pick navels well into January. Because of lower volume, this season, however, may not go as long, Finch said.

“With the demand this year and a smaller crop, it will be a challenge to get to the first of the year with them,” he said.

Finch said he expects to have navels through Christmas.

He said it should also be a good year to promote bagged navels.

Kevin Swords, Florida citrus sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, agreed navel demand has been strong.

“It met a window when the imports finished and before California, so we had some good promotions to meet that window,” he said. “Navels are short out there, so we look for the market to remain favorable or stabilized throughout November and December.”

Pat Rodgers, president of Greene River Marketing Inc., said he expects 35% less navel volume this season.

He said colder January and February temperatures in the central producing region hurt buds after bloom.

“A block of fruit last year that may have produced 10,000 to 12,000 boxes this year could produce 7,000 boxes,” he said in late October.  “The size structure on navels will be big, though, because they are light in production.”

Rodgers said customers can expect to see firmer and stronger navel pricing after shippers in the gift fruit and fundraising markets during the summer aggressively purchased on-tree fruit.

That procurement drove the navel market up, he said.

The growers and packinghouses that DNE sells for began running hamlin oranges for fresh juicing in late October. Hamlins run through late January.