A shorter crop of California navel oranges was bringing higher prices compared with year-ago levels and expectations of firm pricing through the holiday season.
Oranges are one of the top commodities promoted by retailers for Christmas ads, trailed only last year by apples and pineapples, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Retail Report.
Potatoes, onions and salads were the top promoted vegetable items at Christmas last year, and higher markets for potatoes and onions - combined with the up-tick in orange prices - should make the produce portion of the Christmas feast a little more expensive this year.
The crop estimate for the 2017-18 California navel crop in 2017-18 was 70 million cartons, of which about 68 million cartons will be produced in the Central Valley.
The projected crop of 70 million fresh navel oranges in California was down 8% from the 2016-17 crop of 75.6 million cartons and down 14% from the 2015-16 crop.There are lighter yields from the north end of the growing area in Fresno County and Tulare County compared with Kern County in the southern region, said Bob Blakely, vice president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual. Even in Kern County, he said yields or at or below estimates.
Lack of uniformity in yields seems to be related to a series of storms in the bloom period in the spring and extreme hot weather in the summer, which caused higher than normal fruit drop.
“It doesn’t look the crop will be any bigger than what they estimated and might actually be a little bit smaller,” Blakely said.
A typical season with a normal crop can be marketed through July, but this year’s shorter crop could shorten the season, he said.
Blakely said navel quality and sizing are good, with some shippers beginning to export navels.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported average shipping point prices for all sizes of conventional navels was $20.75 per carton in late November, up from about $15.50 per carton the same time a year ago.
Brenda Gomez, sales representative with Purefresh Sales Inc., Selma, Calif., said Christmas demand was expected to peak in mid-December. The market was expected steady to higher in coming days, she said.
“Prices are tending a little firmer,” she said.
Size 72s Fancy grade navels were at $22.75 per carton Nov. 29, she said. Brix levels were ranging from 13 to 15.9 for fruit from the Orange Cove region in late November, she said.
Oranges are among several key commodities with firmer prices compared with a year ago. Here is a snapshot of other prices for other top commodities promoted at Christmas
- Apples: In 2016, apples accounted for 22% of total ads for fruit commodities on Dec. 23. Gala apples were promoted by 3,535 stores last year for an average price of $1.34 per pound.This year, Washington gala apples, size 72s, were priced at mostly $22-24 f.o.b. per carton on Nov. 29, slightly higher than $18-22 per carton Nov. 29 last year.
- Pineapples: In 2016, the USDA reported pineapples accounted for 9% of all Christmas week fruit ads. Christmas week retail ads for pineapples were carried by 14,238 U.S. retail stores last year for an average price of 2.13 each. On Nov. 29, the Miami terminal market price for 5 count cartons of pineapples from Costa Rica was $8-9 per carton, down from $9-12 per carton for the same date a year ago.
- Potatoes: In 2016, potatoes accounted for 12% of all vegetable Christmas retail ads, according to the USDA. The USDA said 6,332 retailers promoted 10-pound bags of russet potatoes at an average price of $3 per bag last year. This year, f.o.b. pricing on cartons of 5 10-pound film bags of non-size A russet potatoes was mostly $6.50-7, up from $4.50-5 per carton the same date a year ago.
- Salad: The USDA reported that salad was the second most advertised vegetable during Christmas week in 2016, with 6,147 retailers promoted mixed types of 5-ounce to 9-ounce bagged salads at an average retail of $2.32. The USDA issues no price report on packaged salad. On Nov. 29, romaine lettuce in cartons of 24 heads in the Imperial Valley were priced at an f.o.b. of mostly $7.25-8.95 per carton, down slightly from $8.50-9.95 at the same date last year.
- Onions: Dry onions accounted for 8% of all vegetable Christmas retail ads in 2016, with 6,162 retailers promoting 3-pound bags of yellow onions at an average price of $1.56. On Nov. 29, the f.o,b. for Idaho-eastern Oregon onions was $9-10 per carton for jumbo yellow onions, up more than double from $3.50-4 per carton the same date a year ago.
2016 Christmas week retail ads
Top ten fruits promoted:
Misc Berries, 4%
Top ten vegetables promoted
Dry onion 8%
Bell peppers 7%
Sweet Potatoes, 7%
Grape tomatoes 4%