Tim Hearden/Capital Press
SACRAMENTO — Navel oranges are being picked and shipped from California’s Central Valley, as growers are taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of a dangerous pest.
The harvest of navels has been under way for several weeks, and growers are reporting good early-season quality as they ramp up shipments in time for Thanksgiving, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
“The quality is looking excellent,” Blakely said. “The color’s coming on line … For this time of year, we’ve been getting good reports of eating quality and flavor.”
Shipping was off to a slow start as the market still had some Southern Hemisphere navels in the pipeline as well as the last of the summer valencias, Blakely said. But shipments are expected to pick up as the holiday season approaches, he said.
In a harvest that typically stretches from mid-autumn to late spring or early summer, California growers are expected to produce 88 million cartons this year, down 2 percent from 2012-13, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service office here.
In all, 85 million cartons are expected to come from the valley. Each box weighs about 40 pounds.
NASS used a survey of growers this summer to predict an average fruit set per tree of 265, down significantly from the 344 oranges per tree measured in 2012. The average diameter on Sept. 1 was 2.338 inches, slightly larger than last year.
Growers are proceeding with their first harvest since a quarantine was imposed on parts of Tulare and Kern counties this summer to prevent the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid, which carries the deadly tree disease Huanglongbing.
All citrus fruit in a quarantine zone must be cleared of leaves and stems prior to moving out of the area. Growers are also spraying for the pest before the fruit is harvested and moved to packing houses outside the zone, Blakely said.
“We’re adapting to it here in Tulare County,” he said. “This is the first time the Central Valley has had to deal with it. We’re taking extra precautions and complying with the restrictions to avoid moving any psyllids that might be around.
“It’s added some extra steps and expense in quarantine areas,” he said. “We feel like that’s what’s necessary if we’re going to keep the psyllid from becoming established in our major citrus growing areas.”
2013-14 California Navel Orange Objective Measurement Report: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Fruits_and_Nuts/201309navom.pdf
California Citrus Mutual: http://www.cacitrusmutual.com