Overall citrus acreage in California is up about 1 percent though on a variety basis the figures are a mixed bag – or box – as the case may be.
While Navel oranges remain the most popular citrus variety in the state at over 120,000 bearing and non-bearing acres, orange plantings declined in the past two years as the popularity of easy-peel mandarin varieties continue to win favor with consumers and by default, growers.
Navel orange plantings shrank 4 percent, according to the latest state figures. Valencia oranges were also down – off 12 percent from 2014 acreage figures.
Mandarins and their hybrids more than made up for other citrus losses as the state’s overall citrus acreage grew about 1.3 percent over 2014 figures to more than 264,000 acres.
Tulare and Kern counties are evenly split with just over 20,000 acres each of mandarin and mandarin hybrid varieties. In total, they make up over 69 percent of the state’s mandarin crop.
Fresno County has another 8,100 acres of the low seed varieties, or just under 14 percent of the state crop.
Statewide mandarin acreage climbed 27 percent in total acreage between 2014 and 2016, according to the 2016 Citrus Acreage Report, published by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Notable in this gain was the 344 percent spike in non-bearing mandarin acreage – up from just over 1,900 acres to more than 8,500 acres – suggesting that growers were eager to plant several mandarin varieties in the wake of growing consumer demand for the easy-peel fruit.
“Mom’s love to buy the easy-peel varieties and put them in their kid’s lunches,” said Bob Blakely, vice president of California Citrus Mutual.
Mandarin trees become “bearing” three to four years after planting, according to Blakely.
Not all citrus varieties are in decline in California.
Lime plantings were up 121 acres to 631 acres, a gain of 23 percent. San Diego, Riverside and Imperial counties make up the bulk of lime plantings in California.
Lemons plantings increased 636 acres from the 2013-14 season to the 2014-15 crop year to 44,621 acres. This includes about 3,100 acres of non-bearing lemons.
On the flip side, Valencia oranges fell 12 percent in total acreage, now under 30,000 acres. That puts Valencia’s third behind lemons and Navel oranges in total acreage.
Grapefruit was statistically unchanged in total acreage.
Blakely says Valencia plantings may have reached equilibrium in California after growers pulled about 4,000 acres of the citrus variety in the past two years.
This “equilibrium” may be caused by juice prices, which Blakely says serve as a “floor price” for California’s fresh-market Valencia oranges. The combination of fewer Valencia acres and the loss of Florida juice production due to Huanglongbing may be responsible for a recent increase in juice prices, he said.
Even so, fresh-market domestic Valencia oranges remain at a competitive disadvantage to Navel orange imports from the southern hemisphere, according to Blakely.
The 2016 California Citrus Acreage Report is released by the CDFA and conducted through a voluntary mail-in survey of 4,300 citrus growers.
As with all voluntary surveys, the CDFA says 100 percent completeness in the surveys is difficult to achieve, as are accurate numbers of those planting citrus for the first time.