Navel orange harvest wraps up early, making way for Valencias

California Valencia oranges have an opportunity in the marketplace as other summer fruits and imported navels have yet to come online.

EXETER, Calif. — The navel orange harvest in California is wrapping up early, giving the Valencia crop a unique opportunity to make gains in the marketplace in the next several weeks.

Navel orange growers are mostly finished with field work and are shipping the last of their season’s oranges, putting a lid on a crop that came in even lighter than expected.

Going into the season, farms were expecting an 81 million-carton crop, down from 88 million cartons produced last season, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

A smaller crop was expected considering last season’s big crop and drought-related water shortages during the bloom. But it turned out to be a steeper decline, although final figures aren’t available yet, California Citrus Mutual vice president Bob Blakely said.

“The demand and prices were good all through the season,” Blakely said. “When you have a small crop, demand tends to exceed supply and you see better prices. Growers really need to get their per-acre return back, because it costs them just as much to produce a small crop as it does a big crop.”

Prices for mid-size navels, which make up the bulk of the crop, have risen to between $15 and $17 per 40-pound carton, up from $10 to $11 in December, Blakely said.

“All in all, our growers feel like they had a pretty good year, even with the smaller crop,” he said. “We had good quality, high utilization and good prices most of the season, which equates to pretty good returns back to the grove. Most of them are going to feel like this season was a success.”

Valencias have the market largely to themselves for the next several weeks, as other summer fruits have yet to come on line and imports of navels from the Southern Hemisphere have yet to pick up, Blakely said.

Valencia growers, too, are expecting a smaller crop. A NASS objective measurement report in March projected a 15.6-million-carton crop, down from 17.4 million cartons in 2016.

It would be the seventh straight production decline for Valencias, whose 30,000 bearing acreage has gradually declined from 50,000 in 2006, according to NASS.

But growers are reporting good size on Valencias this summer, and the larger ones stay in the domestic market because export destinations tend to like the smaller ones, Blakely said.

Valencias are currently shipping for between $14 and $16 a carton, up from the $10 to $11 range that they typically bring at midsummer, he said.

“I think we’re probably going to see some opportunity for pretty good Valencia movement domestically for a few weeks before we get really heavy volumes of Southern Hemisphere navels and the other summer fruit starts coming in,” he said.

“Right now there’s a bit of a gap that we don’t usually have, and we’re seeing some good demand for Valencias right now,” he said.

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