U.S.: LoBue's Heritage Reserve Navel program arrives in strong market

Copyright More News Today's Headline
U.S.: LoBue's Heritage Reserve Navel program arrives in strong market

California-based grower-shipper LoBue Citrus says its Heritage Reserve Navel program will kick off two weeks earlier than last year, amid strong market conditions created by a reduced orange crop and recent rainfall. 

Vice president of marketing Joe LoBue told Fresh Fruit Portal the California Navel and Cara Cara season was running so much earlier than last year in part due to a particularly warm summer last year.

"All it took were a few cool nights which we did get in October to bring the color on, so then we were up and running," he said, adding marketing conditions had been strong this campaign.

"Domestic and export movement has been better than the last two years for the same time period. So not only have we had two weeks of extra movement, but we’ve also found that sales in the domestic market and the export markets have been up.

"As an industry we're probably 5% ahead of where we were this time last year."

The representative explained part of the reason behind the strong market was a relatively small crop in the state. Orange production was forecast to be around 9% down year-on-year, but he said the final figure end up even lower.

"As we get into January now and almost February the growers have been assessing what they have left and in fact a lot of them feel we’re another 5-10% short of the original projection, so this season may end up begin 15% less volume than last year," he said.

"However, compared to an average crop, it’s just a little bit short, which promotes the idea of better pricing."

In addition, LoBue said some rainfall during December and January had brought some much-needed relief from the severe drought conditions, and at the same time had kept supplies 'a little bit tight', further boosting the market.

Heritage Reserve Navels

LoBue Citrus' Heritage Reserve Navel program involves fruit grown on trees that date back many decades. Because many third-party growers have stayed with the company over its 83-year history, the vintage-flavor fruit now makes up a large proportion of its orange business.

"This is a special program that goes back quite a few years back. These trees are wonderful because they give you the good old-fashioned flavor of a Navel orange. So that’s what we do - we’re selling the idea and the taste of a 50-100-year-old orange." he said.

"As long as we have a good percentage of these trees we're going to continue this program. They have a really good acid-sugar blend that makes them taste different to a lot of the other Navels."

Harvesting is just about to get underway and is due to last through April. The majority of fruit from the program stays in the domestic market, but there are some exports too.

LoBue added the company carried out taste tests from every grove before sending the fruit out to retailers, and certain areas of the country are selected to sell the fruit so that marketers don't overlap.

HLB threat lingers

Competition from Florida in the fresh orange sector has diminished over recent years due to devastating effects citrus greening disease has had on the industry, LoBue said. 

While detections have been made of the disease, also known as HLB, in California, he said that comprehensive control methods from state authorities had kept the disease-spreading insects at bay in the Central Valley.

"The insect [Asian citrus] psyllid that transmits the disease has been in the southern part of the state for four or five years, and usually after about five years is when you start seeing the disease show up," he said.

"There have been some isolated cases of the disease in the Los Angeles area, but we haven’t had anything up here. They’ve found some psyllid, but they’ve been real aggressive in trying to eliminate them.

"The state of California has put in quarantines, they’re monitoring, and they make people spray to get rid of them. That’s really kept them at bay in the Central Valley very well. There is no cure, so we’re hoping if we can control the insect we can control the disease and at least slow it down."

Concerns over Argentine lemon access

Aside from HLB, another hot topic in the California citrus industry is the recent market access granted to lemon exporters in Northwest Argentina by the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA). The development was announced a month ago and met by strong opposition from the California Citrus Mutual (CCM).

While the USDA said several steps would be taken to prevent pests and diseases entering the country, the CCM said the move demonstrated a "callous disregard" for California’s farmers.

LoBue also expressed concern that lemons arriving from the South American country could severely impact the California industry, regardless of what preventative measures were taken.

"Certainly as a lemon grower and a citrus grower in general we’re not real excited about it. There are certainly lots of phytosanitary issues," he said.

"Just like the psyllid...there’s a concern that something’s going to come from South America that’s going to create an issue.

"They do have some diseases in Argentina that we don’t have, so the concern is you do your checks and all the things you can, but some disease or pest that will get into the county, and that's what we don’t want."

Photo: www.shutterstock.com


This story is exclusive to Fresh Fruit Portal. If you would like to reproduce any elements of it on other sites or publications, please make a request to our editorial team at news@freshfruitportal.com

Subscribe to our newsletter