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California Navel crop estimated at 93 million cartons, a ‘bumper crop,’ but still shy of a record

The 2012-13 California Navel crop is officially estimated to be 93 million cartons (40-pound equivalent) statewide and 90 million cartons for the valley, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The estimate, officially called the California Navel Orange Objective Measurement Report, is prepared annually by NASS in cooperation with the California Department of Food & Agriculture and is commonly referred to in the industry as the CASS report.

The 93 million-carton09-CalCitrus-NavelCropNavel oranges on the tree in a California citrus grove. The 2012 California Navel crop is expected to be large but shy of a record. (Photo by Rand Green) estimate, if realized, would be shy of the record volume set in 2010-11, when the Central Valley alone produced 93 million cartons, and up 6 percent from the 2011-12 harvest.

Although short of a record, some growers are characterizing the 2012-13 Navel crop as a “bumper crop.” Quality is expected to be good, and sugars have developed well due to an unusually warm late summer and early fall. However, the warm temperatures have also caused the fruit to be slow to color, and have even brought about some re-greening, so growers have been waiting on color before harvesting.

The first harvests in the state started in the latter half of November, and the first shipments were expected to head to market by Nov. 1, according to Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual in Exeter, CA.

Many growers The Produce News talked to expected to be into good production by the week of Nov. 5.

Because of the implementation of the new California Standard for Navels this year, he expected a 32 percent “improved probability” that consumers would get a good tasting piece of fruit early in the season.

The industry was able to market last year’s crop in an orderly manner, according to Neil Galone, director of marketing for Booth Ranches LLC in Orange Cove, CA. This year’s crop being “only marginally larger,” he said, “I think that will be manageable as well. But it does mean there will be sufficient volume — good volume for promotional activity throughout the season, which is good for everybody.”

Mr. Galone said Oct. 17 that he had heard one grower started picking on the 16th. He expected Booth Ranches to start harvest on Oct. 23, with the first availability Oct. 29 and good availability from Nov. 5.

Sizes early on will be a little smaller than last year, he said. But “with the amount of fruit on the tree, if this fruit grows even a little bit more than we expect,” then the crop could come in at over 93 million cartons.

It is “a good crop size, probably very comparable to last season,” with fruit size about the same or a little smaller, said Paul Huckabay, citrus manager for western citrus at Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. in Visalia, CA. He expected larger sizes to be limited through the Christmas holidays.

“CASS is out. It is not a record crop, it is a bumper crop, I guess,” said Fred Van Zandt, citrus category manager at Green Tree International Inc. in Visalia. “We are probably going to start off with sizes in the mid-size [range]“ — 88s followed by 113s followed by 72s.

Navels require “a lot of BTUs” to develop sugar, Mr. Van Zandt said Oct. 18. “Generally when you have a summer as hot as we have had this summer, we should have really good sugar.” And if the fruit eats well, “the housewife is going to come back and buy more.”

Fruit in the Bakersfield-Edison area was “already meeting the minimum requirement” on sugar, but “the color is still far off because it takes cold nights to get the fruit to color up” and to get the fruit’s skin to firm up, which is important to good shelf life. “Next week, it is supposed to cool off quite a bit, so that should be a harbinger of good things,” he said.

“It looks very promising as far as flavor is concerned this year,” Mr. Van Zandt reiterated. “It looks like we are going to be looking at a very good eating piece of fruit this year, which is going to help the consumer help us.”