SACRAMENTO — A federal report suggests only 4.5 percent of California navel oranges were affected by last month’s freeze, but it doesn’t take into account the fruit that was diverted to juice, an industry official explains.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service office here revised its navel orange forecast to 84 million cartons, down only slightly from its October forecast and from last year’s crop.
In addition, the agency now predicts this season’s valencia orange crop will be 23 million cartons, down 8 percent from its October forecast and from the 2012-2013 production. In explaining the revisions, NASS pointed to the December freeze that impacted much of the citrus crop.
If the freeze had only affected up to 8 percent of the crop, citrus growers would be breathing sighs of relief. But the government’s figures only reflect the size of the crop as a whole and not its quality, said Bob Blakely, California Citrus Mutual’s director of industry relations.
“They’re not taking in the utilization,” Blakely said. “They’re just saying their original estimate … was a little high and they’re adjusting it down.”
Blakely said that utilization rates — the percentages of harvested oranges that can be sold as fresh — have remained high this month as growers have focused on orchards least affected by the freeze, but that those rates will probably drop as the season progresses.
The state’s citrus industry spent more than $30 million using wind machines and irrigation equipment to protect the valley’s $1.5 billion crop from frigid overnight temperatures that lingered Dec. 3-11 and returned for several nights later in the month.
Some citrus packers have estimated that as much as half the navel and mandarin crop was lost, although Citrus Mutual has cautioned that effects of the freeze were uneven and that some areas were impacted more than others. Citrus Mutual expects to have more concrete damage estimates later in the month.
In its January crop production report, NASS also downgraded its expectations for lemons, which were down 7 percent from October, and tangerines, which were down 2.2 percent. The agency’s forecast of 8 million cartons of grapefruit is unchanged from the fall.
NASS California crop production report: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Other_Files/201401crppd.pdf
California Citrus Mutual: http://www.cacitrusmutual.com