Shipments of the California organic navel crop have started, kicking off what is expected to be a strong season. By early November, more producers are expected to join the party with sufficient supplies available in time for both Thanksgiving and Christmas promotions.
Craig Morris, category director for citrus and grapes for Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, CA, said yesterday that “we will begin picking and harvesting organic navels tomorrow.”
He said Homegrown’s organic navel crop is “down 15 percent from a normal crop, which is producing sizing about a half size to a full size larger than normal, which is perfect.”
Craig Morris, category director citrus and grapes, Homegrown Organic Farms
He said early season fruit should peak at 72 to 88 size and will grow a size or two larger as the season wears on and California gets some good winter rain. He noted that there will be plenty of volume this year of organic navels with promotable supplies by mid-November, in time for Thanksgiving, which falls on Nov. 28 this year.
Also weighing in was Tom Underwood of Corona-College Heights (CCH) Orange and Lemon Association, Riverside, CA. Underwood told OPN Connect that his firm was expecting to begin picking the crop and shipping the organic navels to market by the end of next week (Nov. 4-10). “There was a time when there were no organic navels in the market before Christmas but that is no longer the case,” he said, noting that approved treatment protocols now produce ripe and well-colored organic fruit for Thanksgiving. “Now everyone wants a Thanksgiving ad,” he quipped.
Homegrown Organic navel oranges
Underwood said CCH’s organic navel crop might be down slightly from the 2018/19 season, but added that last year’s crop was larger than normal and even a small decrease this year will result in plenty of fruit to sell.
He predicted that supplies will last well into the spring, mirroring the availability of California’s conventional navel crop. “We should have plenty of organic navels to sell well into April and May,” he said.
While Underwood generally agrees with the popular assertion that pricing of organic crops at retail works best when it is within about 25 percent of the conventional price, he said that doesn’t hold true at the beginning of the organic navel season. Speaking as organic shipments began and were still in short supply, he said the f.o.b. price had started out at about double the conventional price.
He did allow that over the course of the season the retail price will most likely be in that 25 percent premium range. Underwood explained that with the popularity of the mandarin and other specialty citrus, available both as an organic and conventional option, consumers have more citrus choices than they once did. Consequently, the entire citrus category produces a moderating effect on pricing. If the price on a specific organic citrus option climbs too high, consumers switch to another category, decreasing demand and consequently lowering the price, as classic supply and demand modeling would predict.
Morris of Homegrown said that growing citrus organically is a difficult and expensive proposition…more difficult than growing organic stone fruits or grapes. “It’s tricky; it’s all about the nitrogen. It’s difficult to get enough nitrogen on organic citrus. It’s more expensive and you get less yields (than conventional citrus production). You have to receive at least a 50 percent premium (f.o.b.) or it doesn’t make economic sense to switch from conventional to organic.”
He said that price gap has been maintained for organic navels and most of the other citrus varieties, with the exception of mandarins. He said that price premium is more difficult to achieve with organic mandarins, which will hamper the growth in supplies of that item.
With regard to other organic citrus, Morris said Homegrown has a full slate. The firm is currently shipping organic lemons, with good volume and promotable pricing. “We will start Satsumas on Nov. 11 and Clementines on Nov. 18. Our grapefruit will start on Nov. 25 with the Cara Caras and Pummelos starting on Dec. 2.”
In total, the company handles 12 varieties of organic citrus throughout the year with promotable volume of almost all of them at one time or another.
Underwood of CCH said his firm also has a nice assortment of organic specialty citrus that will begin shipping in November and last into the spring. He took special note of the company’s organic Daisy mandarin. As a seeded variety, it would seem to have its days numbered but Underwood said “it’s extremely sweet. They are so damn good, we continue to grow them.”