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Trees are healthy; fruit quality is good

California's Valencia orange production down slightly from last year

For Tom Wollenman, who’s been in the citrus industry off and on for 42 years, following in his father, G.A. Wollenman’s footsteps, fruit continues to grow as it did 83 years ago when LoBue started growing citrus. There may be more access to technology and research, but what hasn’t changed is how the trees grow and produce year to year. Since they cycle, producing more fruit one year and less the next, it’s something citrus farmers have had to live with since the beginning. 

California estimates differ from actual
The California Department of Food and Agriculture estimated Valencia orange production at 1.56 million cartons. Wollenman says it looks to be not too far off but slightly lower. “Valencia tree crop estimates are at about 15,000,000 40lb. cartons down from 20,000,000 last season.” LoBue sells 2,000,000 cartons of Navels, 250,000 cartons of Valencia Oranges plus 300,000 cartons of other citrus varieties.

Nonetheless, Wollenman says Valencias are “moving well for us and moving well for the industry.” This year is a smaller cycle than last year’s crop: he says the Valencia industry in California is down about 30 per cent from last year; navels are down about 10-15 per cent. “It could be a bit of a grower-seller’s market at this particular time. We expect fairly brisk movement for the summer. We expect a fairly decent price structure.”

Growing region has changed over the years
Lindsay, California is in the epicenter of the state’s citrus growing region. “Our forefathers recognized this area in the valley as prime citrus growing area,” Wollenman says. “A lot of it has to do with the certain kind of soil we have, (and) access to water.” The landscape of the San Joaquin Valley has changed over the years through development and a change in nature. 

At one time nearby Tulare Lake, which used to be a huge body of water is now farmland. However, during the recent rain, he said there was such an accumulation of water the lake had started to reform and water had to be diverted. Normally speaking, citrus is more stable unlike tree fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines) which have a very short harvest window. LoBue’s Valencias can be harvested over a 4-5 month timeframe. “We’re less affected by weather but labor is a huge issue.”

Healthy trees; not affected by rain
Rain didn’t affect his Valencias. Navels were tricky previously, as well as some of their other varieties. Wollenman said it was difficult for them to keep the food chain full of fruit across the country, because it would rain for a week at a time. Resulting fruit quality dictates how it gets shipped to the market. “Some years we have such excellent fruit and rind quality that we can actually extend the season (on navels and Valencias),” he explains. Other years when the weather isn’t quite as hot and dry as it should be fruit is less than desirable in terms of a shorter shelf life. However Wollenman says this sometimes results in a flood of citrus on the market and then a push on prices. 35 per cent or more of the Valencia are exported with the balance being sold in the domestic and Canadian markets.

He looks up to his dad’s pioneering efforts early on and learned a lot from him over the years. “In a business like citrus, it’s something you can’t learn in one, two, three or five years. I watched the way he handled certain situations and I was able to extract methodologies from him that help me today.”

For more information:
Tom Wollenman, General Manager
LoBue Citrus
Ph: (559) 562-1306

Publication date: 5/19/2017
Author: Rebecca D Dumais
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


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