California citrus: Optimism for season as industry eyes recovery

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California citrus: Optimism for season as industry eyes recovery

With the beginning stages of California citrus season in full swing, the industry hopes to rebound from a difficult prior season.

Casey Creamer of California Citrus Mutual (CCM) spoke with about the industry's expectations, conditions and exports.

California citrus conditions and forecast

Similarly to last season, projected volumes of Navel oranges are less than hoped for. However, this summer saw more favorable weather compared to last year, said Creamer.

Such weather has provided a higher quality of fruit compared to last year. Fruit sizes are also said to be better than last year's - as the last season suffered from small sizes due to a hot summer.

Creamer said the projected Navel forecast is 73 million boxes. This is down from last year where approximately 78 million was projected.

He told us that "the bottom line is that we're seeing lower volumes than anticipated".

While volumes are currently low, Creamer explained that "it's going to take getting into the season and getting to harvest to see where we actually get".

He said that last year the crop was, in fact, "much higher" than projected volumes.

Following one of the worst years the industry has seen, the industry is hoping that prices will return to normal.

Currently, at the start of the season, pricing is similar to what it was during the same time in the prior season.

"We are optimistic moving forward but we are still very concerned about where we’re going to end up this year based upon the severe market conditions that were faced by our growers last year.”

Exports in the Asian arena

Creamer went on to speak about developments in Asian markets. He told us that the industry sees Japan as "a stable market" because of the new trade deal between the countries.

As California citrus is now on a "level playing field with competitors in Japan", the outlook is good so long as tariff rates remain competitive.

While prospects in Japan appear positive, there is still concern within the industry regarding the "ripple effect" of the Chinese tariff situation.

New trade deals between the U.S. and China have dramatically impacted citrus exports.

Therefore, explained Creamer, exports are highly dependent upon new tariffs.

"If fruit is unable to enter the Chinese market because of increased tariffs, it will move into the domestic market."

Creamer emphasized that while the industry has good markets in Asia, "China's a big one and we've got to maintain our business relationship with China to be successful".

Ongoing concerns and next steps in the season

Apart from global markets, the California citrus industry remains concerned with imported volumes in the domestic market.

This is especially true early on in the season.

One of its main preoccupations, Californian citrus has been increasingly threatened domestically by imports from countries like Peru and Chile.

Looking forward to colder weather as the season progresses, Creamer expressed optimism. He explained that "it can be really good for fruit" if it does not get too cold for too long.

However, extreme cold is a major threat. "We're entering into a period that we have the most concern, which would be a hard freeze," said Creamer.

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