Mother Nature was kind to California citrus trees this year, producing a very good supply of organic navels and mandarins, both of which are in prime position for holiday promotions.
Craig Morris, citrus and grape director for Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, CA, said “we have our best navel crop in five years.” He said quality is excellent and there should be promotable supplies from now through March. Homegrown will have a steady supply into May, but Morris said the sweet spot for retail promotions will be over the next three to four months.
Craig Morris, Citrus and Grape Director of Homegrown Organic Farms
Morris also said the company’s organic mandarin groves produced an excellent growing season. “We have 50 percent more mandarins to sell this year,” he said.
Homegrown will, however, have a gap in its supplies from mid- to- late January. “From now until early January, we will have plenty of fruit and then again from February to April. Mandarins are an alternate-year bearing crop and this is an up year. And Mother Nature has been good to us, ” Morris said.
Another organic grower, Gerald Denni of Mittman-Denni Farming Inc., Lindsay, CA, told OPN this week that his navel crop also looks excellent this year. He has harvested an estimated 8% of an expected 650,000 carton of organic navels this season.
Denni, who packs and ships his fruit through Sunkist Growers, said he will be packing and shipping his organic navels into May. However, he said many organic growers often appear to be in a rush to get their fruit off the trees so the January/February time period “can feel like we have an oversupply but we don’t.”
Gerald Denni of Mittman-Denni Farming Inc.
He added that retail promotions for organic navels is always welcome but that January-February time period should offer some great opportunities with regard to pricing. Typically, the price for organic navels averages about $10 per carton more than its conventional counterpart, and that has been the case in early December, standard conventional carton was in the $17-$18 range with organic fruit being quoted at $27 to $28 f.o.b.
The veteran grower said the premium is well deserved as “it is a struggle to grow organic oranges.” Organic citrus crops, of which he grows a handful of varieties, are “a huge consumer of nitrogen…and that’s not cheap.”
By taking extra care and applying all the inputs necessary, Denni said he has been able to maximize his yields on the organic side so they are at least somewhat comparable to what a conventional grower can achieve. “So the premium we get does cover the cost, but it is a challenge.”
Morris agreed that producing citrus organically is a difficult challenge. “For navels, our production costs are 30% higher and our yields are 30% lower,” he said.
As far as mandarins go, he noted the cost and yield differential between organic and conventional are not quite as severe. “It costs 20-25% more and we get 20-25% less yield.”
Joel Nelson, president of California Citrus Mutual, said the intrusion of the Asian Citrus Psyllid in California, and the fear of the citrus greening disease that has severely impacted Florida citrus production, has put a bit of a damper on the growth of organics in the California citrus industry. Citrus greening, which is spread from grove to grove by the psyllid, has no known cure at this point. While much research is being done to address the issue, the current strategy involves eliminating the pest. Again this is a much more difficult equation for organic growers who do not have access to the same crop protection tools.
Morris said the spread of the psyllid is a definite barrier to the growth of the organic citrus industry. Without a solution, he indicated many growers are just not interested in growing organically because they don’t have a lot of options.