Tim Hearden/Capital Press
SACRAMENTO — With harvest just a few weeks away, Valencia orange trees in California’s Central Valley are showing good volume despite the December freeze, according to a survey of growers.
Samples taken in 583 Valencia groves found an average fruit set per tree of 616, above the five-year average of 603, reported the National Agricultural Statistics Service office here.
The average March 1 diameter was 2.571 inches, slightly larger than the five-year average of 2.566, according to NASS’ objective measurement survey.
The agency predicts the summertime crop will come in at 24 million cartons, down from about 25 million cartons last year. Valencia acreage continues its precipitous decline; there are about 37,000 acres of the variety this year, down from 68,000 in 2000, noted Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
“It is within the crop range that we’ve seen in the last couple of years,” Blakely said of NASS’ prediction. “Valencia acreage continues to decline as more trees are taken out and orchards are redeveloped into more desirable varieties.”
The report comes as citrus growers lost about $441 million in revenue because of the early December freeze, as about 30 percent of navel oranges and 40 percent of remaining mandarins were rendered unsuitable for fresh markets, Citrus Mutual estimates.
Valencias with minor frost damage had time to heal and refill their juice sacks, but the NASS survey wasn’t necessarily looking for internal damage, Blakely said.
“I don’t think you can interpret it that we didn’t have damage to the Valencia crop,” he said. “I’m sure we’re going to find that we do, but nobody has started harvesting that crop yet.”
Lots of large, juicy navel oranges are still showing up at farmers’ markets and on supermarket shelves, but fresh-utilization rates are starting to drop as growers move into groves that they know sustained some freeze damage, Blakely said.
Growers and shippers are spending more time separating out good oranges for the fresh market and sending others to the juicer, he said.
2013-14 California Valencia Orange Objective Measurement Report: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Fruits_and_Nuts/201403valom.pdf
California Citrus Mutual: http://www.cacitrusmutual.com