As the season’s last navel oranges have left packing houses, production came close to matching the 79 million cartons forecast by an agency here, an industry insider says. Now growers are turning their attention to next season, for which the developing crop looks to be average or better, said Bob Blakely, vice president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual. “It depends on who you talk to,” Blakely said. “Some growers are seeing a heavier crop and for some the crop is smaller.” The trees from which oranges were harvested earlier in the season tend to have a better fruit set, while trees that still have fruit on them during the bloom don’t set as much because they’re still carrying a crop, he said. In any case, there’s been very little fruit drop this summer, Blakely said. “The fruit that’s set seems to be holding, which would indicate it’s probably an average to slightly better-than-average crop,” he said.
Packing houses are still totaling up production figures, but the National Agricultural Statistics Service in Sacramento reported in July that this season’s navel production would end up at 79 million cartons, or 1.58 million tons. That’s down 1 percent from the agency’s initial estimate of a nearly 81 million carton crop but up 2 percent from last year’s production.
Growers maintained a fresh-utilization rate of more than 80 percent through most of the season before rates fell into the 70s near the end. Oranges not suitable for the fresh market are diverted to juice.The navel season wrapped up as the harvest of Valencia oranges will continue through the summer. NASS now expects a 19 million carton crop, down 5 percent from its forecast earlier this year and down 11 percent from last year’s utilization.Valencia acreage has seen a precipitous decline in recent years as growers replace them with navels or other more lucrative citrus varieties. There are about 34,000 bearing acres of Valencias this year, down from 65,000 in 2001-02, according to NASS.