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Seald Sweet has ample supplies of quality fruit, but shortened season looms

by Chip Carter | January 16, 2011
Seald Sweet International in Vero Beach, FL, has ample fruit for promotion, but Chief Marketing Officer David Mixon does not expect that the Florida citrus season as a whole will have legs to make it much past mid-April.

While some growers hope to extend the season after four freeze events over six weeks in December and January, Mr. Mixon said in mid-January that this is probably unrealistic. He also expects the remainder of the Florida season to bring smaller-sized fruit -- same as the first half -- due to the worst drought in 15 years and the atypical cold weather.

"Right this minute we're OK. We do not have the large fruit to sustain a good packout, but there's still ample supply of fruit on the trees as we speak," Mr. Mixon said. "But what's going to happen in the next few months, it's going to be considerably negatively impacted."

Mr. Mixon expects size and amount of fruit harvested to begin to dwindle shortly for all Florida citrus growers.

"Size is a problem due to this huge drought we're in. We've not been in this serious a drought situation in many a moon. This is the strongest in 15 years, and it's really creating havoc not just on sizing of product but also in other areas," Mr. Mixon said. "In every variety that we're dealing with, there is not size with the exception of a handful of blocks of fruit and mostly grapefruit. And the majority of the grapefruit is still smaller than we've had it on record - - it is definitely small and smaller. That's going to continue. We've not had enough rain to measure, and this cold weather has set it back. Not only do we have problems with size but with mid-season varieties -- Temple oranges and Honey tangerines. The industry's having some problems finding mature to pick."

The good news is, "In most cases your pound-solid is strong enough to at least give you some type of return with the canneries being stronger than they have in a number of years, which is a good plus," Mr. Mixon said. "You take the drought and the freezing weather, that double stress is really taking more and more fruit away from us as an industry. Now the tree is really bailing out: 'I can't handle all this so I'm shedding my fruit.' There's a lot of fruit coming off the trees right now that does not show any signs of damage, but it's the tree reacting to the stress. I don't think we as a company or as an industry at this point truly understand the significance and long-term effects of what has and is taking place as we speak."

He continued, "We've got a pretty good slug of fruit left on the trees right now, but there's no way it will hold on the tree. This season is probably going to be the shortest on record as far as timing. And as far as utilization, it depends on if it sizes up enough where you can even use the fruit. Obviously it's all in the eye of the beholder. There are people picking fruit that's falling off the tree when it shouldn't be because once it hits the ground, it's not any good to anyone. But it may be 30 percent undersized, and you lose a considerable amount of packout and drive costs straight through the ceiling. I think we as an industry will see the effects of this cold for the balance of the season, and I do not see this going much beyond mid-April."