Growers: Navel crop among best ever

Capital Press file <br>A worker at a Terra Bella area farm harvests oranges in this file photo. <br>

Delayed high temps during season contributed to desirable crop

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

This season's navel orange harvest in California could turn out to be among the best ever, industry representatives say.

The picking season for navels is expected to draw to a close at the end of this month, as Valencia harvests get started.

Growers have consistently reported a high utility rate for this year's navel crop, which has been producing oranges that are big and sweet.

The spring's cool weather only enhanced their quality, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

"It tends to help extend the life of the fruit," Blakely said. "If it turns hot, that tends to accelerate maturity and a decline in quality. Now we're just starting to get some hot weather."

Final numbers on volume should be available in early July, Blakely said. The season for navels began in the fall amid the National Agricultural Statistics Service's projection that 80 million cartons would be produced during the 2009-2010 season.

If such a yield materializes, it will be a significant improvement over last season, which yielded about 64 million cartons.

Prices for peak sizes have averaged a little above $10 a carton for the season, although fancy-grade fruit in recent weeks has gone for as much as $18 a carton, Blakely said.

Cartons typically contain about 40 pounds of fruit, he said, adding that in most cases, producers need about $9 a carton to cover their costs.

"We're fortunate this year that in addition to higher weekly volumes we were seeing higher prices, which is always favorable," Blakely said. "We're going to end up utilizing over 80 percent of the crop this year, which is excellent. We normally figure between 75 to 80 percent, so it should be a year when growers should make some money.

"It just points out how much better it is when you have high-quality, good-eating fruit," he said. "The demand is there when it tastes good."

Online

California Citrus Mutual: www.cacitrusmutual.com

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