Tim Hearden/Capital Press
SACRAMENTO — As they near an early end to their harvest, California navel orange growers may finish with a larger crop than they had expected after the December freeze.
Growers have picked more than 70 percent of the roughly 88 million cartons of navel oranges that were forecast at the beginning of the season, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
With some groves still left to cover, it’s likely they’ll come under Citrus Mutual’s February estimate that 30 percent of the crop was destroyed by the frigid nighttime temperatures.
“It may not be quite that high, but we’ll still see that the crop will be reduced because of the freeze,” Blakely said.
He expects the harvest will be mostly finished within the next three weeks. It typically wraps up in late June or early July.
Since the freeze hit on Dec. 3-11 and returned several times later in the winter, growers have been working in the least damaged orchards first and then moving to blocks where they know damage occurred. At this point, utilization rates — the percentage of fruit that’s suitable for the fresh market — have averaged at or above 70 percent, Blakely said.
“Surprisingly the eating quality and flavor have been holding up pretty well,” he said. “They’ve been doing a pretty good job of separating it, so what has been getting into the market is good quality.”
CCM has estimated the freeze cost the citrus industry about $441 million in revenue, including $260 million lost to navel orange producers and processors.
Adding to growers’ woes has been the drought, which prompted the state and federal water projects to allocate zero water for agricultural customers this year. Some citrus growers have pushed out less viable orchards and fallowed ground until it can be redeveloped, Blakely said.
“We’re just coming out of the bloom and trying to set a crop” for next season, he said. “It’s going to affect how much fruit the tree holds on to. It could seriously affect … the size of the crop.”
Among other fruit crops in California, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service office here:
• Blossom was finishing up last week on pomegranate, nectarine, peach and plum trees as grapes continued to bloom and leaf out.
• Bunches have been developing on grapevines in the San Joaquin Valley, where wine grapes were sprayed last week with fungicides.
• Growers have been thinning early stone fruit varieties as apricots have been increasing in size. Buds were forming last week on olive trees.
NASS California Crop Weather: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Crop_Progress_&_Condition/
California Citrus Mutual: http://www.cacitrusmutual.com