The most enduring impacts of the four-year California drought may be felt in the citrus industry, where tree removal and replanting take acres out of production for about five years. If they’re replanted at all.
Valencias were the first and easiest target for removal, given the decline in demand for that fruit, but some navel groves have come down too. Bulldozers are still shying away, though, from mandarins.
Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, estimates citrus tree removal for 2014 and 2015 will total up to 25,000 acres.
“It’s being escalated because growers don’t have enough water,” Blakely said. “They were taking out less productive, lower quality groves in 2014. This year we’re seeing some good-quality groves going out just because growers don’t have the water to take care of their trees. They’re having to make tough decisions and push out better trees than they pushed out last year.”
“Underperforming groves have been targeted to eventually take out or replace,” said Seth Wollenman, sales and brand manager for Lindsay, Calif.-based Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co.
Some lost acreage has already been replanted with more desirable varieties. New trees use less water than mature trees, and some growers have seen the drought as an opportunity to accelerate redevelopment.
“Where they have trees available they’re going ahead and replanting, betting that this drought will break and that they’ll have water to bring those trees on into production,” Blakely said. “I think it’s going to be several years before we see the kind of yields we had prior to the drought.”
California navels will start in mid-October if they repeat their performance in the last two years, given the early starts of other crops in the state. Navels typically start around Nov. 1.
Yields are likely to equal last year’s, Blakely said, but tree removal will push volume down. Weather could pose problems too.
“If we don’t get some rains in the fall to size it up, we could still be looking at small sizes and fewer boxes,” he said July 24.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture and USDA will release the annual navel estimate in the second week of September. Valencias, a summer fruit, continue to harvest in the fall.
On the easy-peel side, satsuma oranges are expected to arrive ahead of navels, in late September or early October. Clementine production should start a little after the navels.
“They’re picking clementines up until Christmas or so, and the murcotts are the spring variety,” Blakely said.
He expected California mandarin volumes to be up this year as new acreage continues to come into production.
“That’s going to continue to trend up for several years.
Southern California valencias – grossing about $7000 to Boston.