The California Citrus Mutual (CCM) has said the state's upcoming orange harvest is likely to begin later than last season, with robust pricing anticipated as the result of one of the lightest crops in years.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) last week estimated 70 million cartons of Navels would be produced, which would mark the lowest levels since 2008-09.
CCM president Joel Nelsen said the industry believed the projection was largely on target, mainly attributing the reduction to declining acreage and rains in March which affected the bloom.
"If you take a look at the figures, the number of acres in actual production is down significantly. We continue to see growers vacate the industry, and acreage being bulldozed or modernized," he said.
Nelsen said two key factors behind the declining acreage were the drought and a stifling regulatory environment.
"Over the last three or four years there's been a drop of 25,000 acres. Multiply that by 600 cartons per acre and that’s a 15 million carton hit," he said.
"We used to think 85 million was a normal crop...well this year we’re down to 70 million."
He explained regulations concerning such aspects as water usage, crop protection tools, buffer zones, and air quality were making it "extremely difficult" for individuals to be successful.
Changes to these regulations and varietal reconversion in citrus groves would be needed in order to turn around the declining acreage and get back up to previous production levels, Nelsen said.
"In what direction do we recover? That's open to speculation, but I think that acreage is going to come back into production, it's just going to be consolidated in terms of ownership," he said.
Heavy rainfall over the winter means there is plenty of water to irrigate for this year at least, he said.
The representative also predicted the orange harvest would begin around a week to 10 days later than last year, depending on weather factors over the coming weeks.
"That’s all up to Mother Nature right now," he said.
"We’re still having warm weather, and the fruit hasn't sized as it has in the past. A little bit of rain in October will help."
Cold temperatures at night were also needed, but Nelsen said he didn't see that happening over the next couple of weeks.
"Right now I think maybe around the middle of October we’ll start harvesting some fruit and by Thanksgiving there will be volume in the stores, but it’s going to be tight for Halloween which is Oct 31," he said.
He also anticipated 'robust' pricing in the market as a result of the lower production.
"No matter what you produce, the cost of farming is stagnant. You’re going to end up spending somewhere around US$3,500 to US$4,000 an acre to farm Navel oranges, whether you get 400, 500 or 700 cartons," he said.
"So growers are going to need a positive return on a per-acre basis. Now there are fewer cartons, one would expect a strong start to the Navel season, but unfortunately for the consumer the costs are going to go up a bit."