U.S.: California citrus volumes set to wind down earlier than normal

March 19 , 2018

Citrus growers in the U.S. state of California have been enjoying a good season overall and are expecting volumes to tail off around a month earlier than normal, according to an industry representative. 

California Citrus Mutual (CCM) president Joel Nelsen said the final stages of the season were looking “really good”, noting the 2017-18 campaign had been moving in a consistent manner with good demand for all varieties.

“Mother Nature gave us a great-tasting crop this year, so that started the demand and that’s been sustained all through the season,” he said.

“It’s probably going to end early because of the shorter crop. We’re normally shipping volume into the Fourth of July and that pretty much terminates the season. This year I would expect us to be pretty much done by a month earlier by the first week of June.”

The shorter crop is mainly due to lower Navel production, which Nelsen speculated was largely the result of rainfall in spring last year which knocked the blossoms off the trees as well as the effects of the ongoing drought.

But he said that fruit size has been much larger this year.

“We’re peaking on 72s and 56s, which is really positive from a consumer perspective,” he said, adding he expected per-acre revenue to be good for growers this year.

Much of California has hit by a cold snap in late-February and early March, but Nelsen said the low temperatures would likely end up improving fruit quality for what was left to be harvested.

“We’re optimistic that we’re going to have a good year all the way around,” he said.

In mandarins, he said the campaign had been going well, with production levels back to normal after a dip last season. Volumes are expected to wind down in the second-half of April.

The lemon season, meanwhile, has been going “fairly strong” since last October.

“That basically is the beginning of our citrus season in California. In October they started harvesting down the Coachella Valley, which went well, it was a small crop,” he said.

“Then we moved over to the San Joaquin Valley and the crop was a little larger and that went well, and now we’re really beginning to harvest fruit over in the major production area which is the Ventura County area and so far the season’s started off very well there too.”

Dry winter

In contrast to the previous year, California has experienced a very dry winter over recent months. Nelsen said February had been the driest on record, with low rainfall in December and January too.

“March is coming in rather strong so we hope to get close to normal by the end of the rainy season, but it’s been a dry year – no question about that,” he said.

The ongoing drought has accelerated the process of orchard rejuvenation and modernization that had been taking place in California, Nelsen said, with lots of new trees set to start bearing in another three or four years.

“You’re going to see that because the trees in the San Joaquin Valley are 50, 60 years old and some of them just won’t produce that optimum quality fruit like they have in the past.

“There will be redevelopment going on for next half a dozen years.”

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