Perfect California growing conditions have produced excellent supplies of organic citrus across the board, allowing for steady promotional opportunities for the next several months.
So says Craig Morris, who is the citrus category director for Homegrown Organic Farms, located in Porterville near the epicenter of the California San Joaquin Valley citrus belt.
“The next 90 to 100 days is the perfect time to promote our organic citrus,” Morris said on January 8, 2020. “Across the board we will have peak production of all varieties.”
Craig Morris, Citrus Category Director, Homegrown Organic Farms
He said the San Joaquin Valley has experienced perfect growing conditions so far this fall and winter, with a nice array of intermittent storms and cold fronts bringing above-average rainfall, and the cold nighttime temperatures the citrus needs to extend the time it can spend on the tree. Unlike most tree fruit crops, citrus can hang on the tree throughout the season allowing for orderly marketing over many months…as long as the weather cooperates. And this year it has.
As an added benefit, Morris said the rain can help size the fruit, which means less fruit to fill a carton and the potential for more boxes throughout the season. “Currently, our packout is trending as we expected but these perfect growing conditions could result in 5 percent more fruit by the end of the year.”
Morris said the grower-shipper works closely with its customers to allow for rolling promotions of the various citrus varieties throughout the winter and early spring. The company is adding volume each year at about a 10 percent clip on each variety, and he noted that this year’s excellent quality is producing better yields with an overall volume increase closer to 20 percent.
Homegrown Organic Farms, organic naval oranges
Additionally, he said there are more marketers getting into the organic category to capitalize on the excitement it generates from consumers and retail buyers. So far this season, which is at the quarter turn, that has resulted in a slight decrease in f.o.b. prices, and very good promotional opportunities.
At this time of year, Homegrown grows and markets navel oranges, lemons, Cara Cara navels, grapefruit, pomelos and clementines. One hundred percent of its production is organic.
Robert Lichtenberg of Earl’s Organic Produce in San Francisco concurred with Homegrown’s assessment, noting that his firm is currently offering organic navels, lemons, limes and several specialty citrus varieties. For the most part, the organic lemon and limes are coming from Mexico, while the navels and specialty varieties are being grown in California. “We’ve seen some great navels and some incredible Cara Caras (a navel variety known for its seedless, pink-colored, sweet-tasting flesh),” he said.
Earl's Organic Produce is offering several citrus varieties - many of which are grown in California
Lichtenberg added the many different varieties of organic mandarins currently available make it the most attractive organic citrus item for promotional opportunities.
Christina Ward, director of global brand marketing for Sunkist Growers, also weighed in on the current marketing situation for organic citrus. “This is the best time of year for Sunkist organic citrus because this is when we have the most varieties available and season is at its peak. Sunkist offers a broad portfolio of organics, including navel oranges, lemons, California mandarins, grapefruit, and specialties like Cara Cara oranges, Blood oranges and Minneola tangelos.”
Christina Ward, Director of Global Brand Marketing, Sunkist
She noted that Sunkist has been marketing organic citrus for more than a decade and continues to see growth in the category. “The citrus industry overall is experiencing an increase in demand at retail for organic mandarins and organic Cara Cara oranges,” she said. “This season Sunkist has launched new organic variety-specific secondary display bins to help increase shelf space for retailers.”
Casey Creamer, president/CEO of California Citrus Mutual, a trade association representing the state’s citrus growers, noted that organic production is more limited in the citrus category because of the fear of Huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening) disease. HLB is a bacteria carried by a tiny insect called the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP). Florida citrus production has declined 60 percent since the psyllid and the disease were first found in a commercial citrus grove in that state about 15 years ago, as the insect and disease spread quickly from grove to grove during the following decade. There has been some success in stemming the tide but in Florida the results have been devastating.
Casey Creamer, President & CEO, California Citrus Mutual
The insect and the disease were first found in residential neighborhoods in Southern California in 2012. California growers have been vigilant in their efforts to prevent the spread of the disease, but Creamer said it is a very expensive proposition for growers of organic citrus. “It is very difficult to grow citrus organically. The potential for putting your grove at risk is high,” he said, adding that organic growers have to use twice the inputs at twice the cost to guard against the disease.
Organic Cara Caras are a popular citrus choice this season
CCM does not break out production numbers by farming methods, but Creamer opined that organic citrus production has not increased at the same rate as in other fruit categories. Morris agreed, adding that of all the crops Homegrown grows citrus is the most difficult and expensive to produce.