According to a statement from Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual (CCM), “The 2018-2019 navel orange season will go down in history as one of the worst seasons outside of a major freeze year.”
The Valley citrus trade group has just reported what most growers already knew – things did not go well during the most recent October through June orange harvest.
CCM says as the season kicked off, the market faced a series of challenges. Unprecedented volumes of imported fruit were present in the marketplace for much later into the season than is typical which remains a significant disruption to the market. Consequently, the normal pent-up demand for fresh California citrus early in the season did not exist. Instead, there was an oversupply situation and a confused customer base.
California’s mature fruit entered a marketplace where there was inconsistent quality, cheap prices and poor flavor. There was a lack of movement at the store level and therefore reluctance by the retail buyer to purchase additional volumes of citrus. The customer base had a bad taste from poor quality imported fruit which made initial marketing efforts extremely difficult. This was compounded by an inferior product in the mandarin category. Differentiating California product from offshore supplies proved to be more difficult than anticipated.
To make matters worse, the California crop was dominated by small sizes. With consumer preference being for large size fruit, especially during the holiday season, the industry was fighting for shelf-space with a less than desirable size structure.
The domestic market was also impacted by the ongoing trade dispute with China. Generally, there is a push to harvest fruit in November in anticipation of strong demand around the Chinese New Year. That demand normally extends from January through April, but that did not occur this year. Some fruit was exported but was immediately delayed due to increased port inspections in China. For 2018-19 crop year, tariff levels and inspection practices on California citrus created barriers that were difficult to overcome. This forced marketers to place more time and attention to the domestic market.