What had once been a relatively sizable player among U.S.-grown citrus items in the summer is being scaled back.
California is cutting its production of valencia oranges.
The summer orange crop, which is what we call the valencia orange, is going to be smaller than in the last two or three years,” said Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
“Last year, we had an extremely large crop, and the valencia orange is an alternate-bearing tree,” Nelsen said.
But growers also are moving on to other varieties, as well, Nelsen said.
“We continue to pull out acreage for that variety,” he said. “The general public has basically told us they prefer a better-looking piece of citrus without seeds. As a result of that, they continue to transition to offshore product from South Africa, Australia and even parts of South America now.”
Acreage once devoted to valencias is being transitioned to seedless mandarin and other varieties, including grapefruit, Nelsen said.
“Those are the three largest varieties replacing valencias,” he said.
The state’s acreage remains static, at about 286,000, Nelsen said.
“Our total bearing acreage remains the same just because we’ve been doing this transition for a few years now,” he said. “We’ll eventually get to the point where the valencia orange will be a small component of our overall tonnage, but most people in the industry believe we’re not quite there yet, given supply exceeds demand.”
Some valencias go to the export market, Nelsen said.
“There’s good demand presently for it in Japan and Southeast Asia,” he said. “And we’ve started our harvest, a little bit in March, picked up steam in April. As the navel deal winds down, you’ll see more valencia movement. I’d expect strong movement overseas into May and into June, and we’ll probably reduce our volume significantly during July and early August.”
He said the Asian markets, in particular, are attracted to California citrus.
“I’m biased, of course, but our fruit is more consistently more flavorful,” Nelsen said. “It’s consistently better color on the inside. It consistently has better juice. And it’s price-equal or lower than some of the offshore product.”
But the California valencia isn’t without problems, Nelsen said.
“It is a harder piece of fruit, and our fruit has a tendency to have a slight blush of green on it,” he said. “It’s not the robust orange that a navel is. And this offshore fruit is orange, and as a result, the consumer looks at the cosmetic side of the equation and accepts that as well as the inconsistent flavor in exchange for no seeds and easy to peel.”
Tom Wollenman, general manager of Lindsay, Calif.-based LoBue Bros., said his company does considerable business in valencias with the Asian markets.
“The valencia deal in California is kind of a long, drawn out process,” Wollenman said. “We’ve been into our harvesting program for a couple of months now. Our big markets for those are China, Japan and a more limited amount into Korea.”
Is there much of a domestic market?
“A lot of that is foodservice,” Wollenman said. “It’s a tough market. It’s slow and consumer demand keeps diminishing a little bit each year. We’re competing with the Australian and South African and Chilean navels, now, that go head to head with the valencias. So those kind of displace our valencias’ shelf space a little bit.”
Marc Solomon, president of Fisher Capespan Inc., St. Laurent, Quebec, also said foodservice is a decent market for valencias, when other citrus products haven’t done as well there.
“Traditionally, it has not been, because the foodservice buyer is able to source valencias at a very low price point, and they tend to be very satisfied with the valencia,” Solomon said.