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Strong marketing situation should carry California Navels all season

The California Navel crop, which began shipping in mid-October, has been forecast at below last year’s small crop, leaving grower-packer-shippers very optimistic that a strong marketing situation will accompany the crop from start to finish.

The California Agricultural Statistics Service has estimated this year’s crop at 70 million cartons, which is more than 10 percent below last year’s crop and about 30 percent below what has been an average year in recent memory. Bob Blakely, vice president of California Citrus Mutual, said the forecast is based on a smaller set, some weather issues that impacted the set, and a slight reduction in acreage.  Mandarin

CASS estimated an on-tree fruit count about 25 percent less than the five year average. Blakely said some storms during bloom are most likely the most impactful culprit on yield.  California also experienced some extreme heat this summer that also likely played a role. The CCM executive noted that CASS is basing this year’s crop estimate on about 115,000 bearing acres. That is down from bearing acreage of 120,000 last year, but Blakely believes last year’s number was too high and was, in fact, closer to this year’s number.

What all this means is probably a strong market. Last year’s crop, which was in the neighborhood of 79 million cartons, was finished shipping in late June/early July, which was about a month earlier than normal.  Blakely said the season could even be shorter this year because of the strong demand. While the industry likes to pace the harvest to extend the season, the decision to pick is in the hands of growers and strong markets tend to result in early picking.

While California does not often get hit with crop-damaging weather, it does happen, so strong early markets offer a great incentive to market early.

As October turned to November, the California lemon market also saw prices trending higher.  

Off-shore and Mexican lemons led to a fairly weak market for the latter part of the summer but those production areas were finishing up as California was beginning its lemon harvest in October.  

Blakely said a strong market should also be the calling card for lemon grower-shippers for the next several months. However, several different production areas within California — Coachella Valley, Ventura County and San Joaquin Valley — do allow for some competition and active marketing.

He also noted that California specialty citrus — including mandarins, tangerines and clementines — were reported to be off a bit as well. Throw in the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecasted the smallest citrus crop from Florida in more than seven decades and western growers could be looking at a favorable pricing situation for the entirety of the 2017-18 season.

In late October, according to the USDA’s Market News Service, Navel orange prices in California were in the high $20s per carton for the best quality and most desirable sizes. The top lemon prices were in the mid-$30s for comparable fruit.