This year's orchard production expected to match last year's
By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Valencia orange groves in the Golden State made it through the icy winter largely unscathed.
The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service is predicting that 28 million cartons of valencias will be harvested this year, roughly equal to last year.
"Cold winter temperatures did not appear to negatively impact the crop," NASS concluded after surveying 578 growers in January and February.
Groves showed an average fruit set per tree of 611, only slightly above the five-year average of 591, according to the report. The average March 1 diameter was just shy of 2.6 inches, about in line with the five-year average, the report stated.
The forecast comes after two consecutive months of freezing temperatures from mid-December through mid-February took their toll on other citrus crops. About 35 percent of the mandarin orange crop was expected to be lost to frost damage, while about 15 percent of the navel crop was damaged, according to the growers' association California Citrus Mutual.
"Valencias are able to handle the cold a little better," said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for the Exeter-based organization.
The citrus industry spent more than $100 million this winter on wind machines, water and the labor needed to run them, all to protect their trees from recurrent nighttime lows in the 20s.
The navel harvest, which typically continues into the summer, is about 60 percent completed, Blakely said. The export market remains strong for navels, and domestic demand is picking up, he said.
"We'd like to see sizes a little better, although there's some indication that may be turning around as well," he said.
Utilization rates remain over 80 percent for navels, Blakely said. Last year's utilization rate was between 67 percent and 70 percent.
2011-12 California Valencia Orange Objective Measurement Report: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Fruits_and_Nuts/201203valom.pdf
California Citrus Mutual: http://www.cacitrusmutual.com/