Drought and ports team up to sour citrus exports

Drought and water delivery issues were not the only thing to impact California's fresh citrus market in the 2014-15 growing season. Now a slow down of activities at West Coast ports is threatening to hamper citrus exports, which last year were estimated at $500 million.

Will drought, ports sour California citrus exports?

Fresh citrus exports impacted by ports slowdown 2014 grape production looks to be down California cherry farmers hammered by poor 2014 harvest

Problems are getting worse for California citrus exports because of the slow-down in port activities on the West Coast.

California Citrus Mutual Vice President Bob Blakely said delays of up to 10 days in getting shipments out are impacting the citrus industry.

California’s all-orange forecast of 100 million cartons of harvested fruit could be a bit optimistic, according to Blakely as the current crop looks to be a little smaller than last year’s due to drought and reduced acreages.

On the bright side, December rains did help fruit size, Blakely said. He characterized quality as “pretty good.”

Warmer temperatures could push harvest ahead and force growers to pick quicker than usual to avoid overly-mature fruit. This could compound export issues as the pipeline to move fruit overseas is moving very slow.

The port issue appears to be a West Coast phenomenon as ports elsewhere in the United States are running. Blakely said some citrus is being trucked to Houston for export, but that has commerce somewhat bottle-necked at the Panama Canal because of carrying capacities there.

Much of the export woes are directed primarily at oranges and lemons as California’s mandarin production is still consumed domestically. There are some emerging markets in Australia for mandarins, Blakely said, but they are still small.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) citrus forecasts for the 2014-15 season remain as follows:

  • Oranges: 100 million cartons, same as last year;
  • Lemons: 40 million cartons, unchanged from last season;
  • Grapefruit: 8 million cartons, unchanged from last year;
  • Tangerines (including mandarins and tangelos): 31 million cartons, up 7 percent from last year.

Grapes

California’s grape crop, which accounts for 88 percent of the 2014 U.S. utilized grape production, is still projected by NASS to be down 12 percent on average across table, raisin and wine varieties from the previous year.

Jeff Bitter, vice president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, Calif. says the NASS numbers are unchanged from previous estimates and better numbers will be forthcoming in about a week as crush reports are issued. Better raisin numbers will not be known until summer when the raisin marketing year ends.

Still, the numbers could be down from the previous year because of drought and a Dec. 2013 hard freeze that affected vines in the San Joaquin Valley, Bitter said.

Nuts

California’s almond crop was likewise impacted by the drought as early estimates of a record 2.1 billion pound crop did not shake out. The new number looks to be 1.87 billion pounds, according to NASS, a 7 percent decline from the previous year.

The lack of production and steady demand for almonds has keep prices at record levels, according to industry reports.

Pistachios are likewise in a positive mode as prices continue at record highs and total harvest looks to be about 514 million pounds. This is 9 percent up from the previous year.

Walnut harvest was also strong as production is estimated to be 565,000 tons, a 15 percent boost from the previous year.

Other crops

California cherries took a severe hit last year as production was down 51 percent from the previous year due to drought conditions.

Other estimates show that apples were down 15 percent, table olives were down 50 percent, pears were off 11-19 percent depending on variety and clingstone peaches were down 10 percent.

Apricot production was projected to be up 2 percent, freestone peaches up 1 percent and dried plumbs up 12 percent, based on NASS numbers.

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