Shortage of smaller size fruit in California navel crop

Volumes on California navel oranges are down on last year as growers are also seeing a shortage of smaller sizes. The shortage of smaller fruit has coincided with a lighter tree set this season, which suppliers say they were expecting. "Estimates at the start of the season pointed at a shorter crop," said Adam Flowers, of Booth Ranches. "As a result, expectations were for a supply shortage to occur, especially in the back half of the season."

The season began with fruit sizes tending on the smaller side, but has since switched around, leading to a shortage of smaller size fruit as the season progresses. Flowers said that this pattern is not uncommon, however the shift has occurred faster and earlier than is typical.

"Season feels a month ahead"
"The lighter tree sets were due to the hot summer period and the generally warmer weather," Flowers noted. "We are now seeing more larger sizes, as expected, however this transition has occurred much quicker than we initially thought. It feels like the season is about a month ahead. Initial supplies were good but now we are starting to experience the short supply, particularly on the smaller sizes. The export market began in earnest last month and this has created domestic supply issues, with demand very strong for all citrus, not just navels."

Flowers added that prices are higher and are expected to remain that way as the season progresses. At this stage, suppliers are considering whether or not the season will end early this year. "Demand is definitely exceeding supply with prices $4 - $5 higher than usual," he said. "If everything continues as it is currently, the season might very well finish up in May, which is earlier than our usual time frame of June."

Market stronger
It comes as no surprise that the shortage of smaller sizes and the lower volume in general is driving navel prices higher. Jeff Joseph of Mineral King Produce, a Californian navel broker, said he hasn't seen such persistently high prices for a decade. "We haven't seen such sustained high FOBs in the last 10 years," he said. "Estimates are that volumes are off 10% - 20% on last year which has resulted in a short supply. Growers have said that the trees experienced a lot of stress during the bloom due to high temperatures. This resulted in less fruit on the trees, with subsequently larger fruit and less overall volume."

High navel prices are being seen on all sizes, but the highest prices are currently on the smaller size fruit, which is not typical. "High FOBs are running across all sizes and grades," Joseph said. "Prices have been above $20 for 3 months now, since October. The highest money has been on the smallest sizes, the 113s and 138s, which is very unusual." 

For more information:
Adam Flowers
Booth Ranches
Tel: +1 (559) 626-4732

Jeff Joseph
Mineral King Produce
Tel: +1 (559) 733-7070

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