I was on a plane this past week to visit the California citrus-growing region near Visalia. It was a great trip and proved there are many things still to learn – even after 35 years in this business!
California has been in a long and severe drought, so it was great to see all the snow in the mountains as we flew in. It was a stark contrast with last year’s lack of snowpack – in fact, it looks like they’ve been getting their fair share at last, and that is a good thing! It is not going to completely fix the drought situation, but it sure helps.
Of course, snow in the mountains means rain in the lowlands and while that helps replenish the reservoirs a bit, it also can (and did) damage the strawberry crop. But I think we’ll be OK as supply is improving in strawberries. Temperatures while we were in California ranged from the high 30s to the low 60s. Not bad, but a little more warmth would speed things up.
As far as citrus goes, we started out the day with Eric at Rising C Ranches and I am happy to report that we have some great products headed to our markets over the next few weeks. The first is the Seedless Tango Mandarin. This fruit has a deep orange flesh with a thin skin that’s easy to peel. They’re very juicy with an excellent balance between sugar and acid, which gives them a sweet, vibrant flavor. This is the next variety in the mandarin orange season replacing the Tahoe of recent weeks.
After the Tango comes the Nugget Mandarin, which is basically the last mandarin variety of the season and – many think – the best flavor of all. It, too, is easy to peel, slightly larger than the Tango and an excellent follow-up to the Sumo Mandarin.
Next in line is the Melogold Grapefruit – a cross between a white grapefruit and a pumelo. It has a thick rind and a yellow-gold flesh. This fruit is sweeter than your typical grapefruit and the beauty is that the segments can be easily removed and eaten out of hand or added to a fresh fruit bowl.
I believe Rising C Ranch is the premier grower of both Heirloom Navel Oranges and Cara Cara Oranges – both of which are at their peak with excellent flavor.
Our next visit took us to Suntreat Orchards and Sumo Mandarins. This year is again proving to be a challenge for these growers and, as they say, it’s always a learning process with this fruit. The harvest is falling well below expected volumes due to the dry summer and the heavy rain over the past several months. The fruit is smaller than normal and has more blemish challenges this year. With all of that said, they have taken great strides to ensure only the best eating fruit makes it into the box. Over the summer, Suntreat installed a new grading line for the Sumo with the technology to scan every piece of fruit and measure sugar content, acid level, size, appearance and weight. Any fruit that falls below specifications is rejected.
This is a big deal this year – while I was there observing, only 30 percent of the harvest was passing grade. With this particular fruit, ugly is not always a bad thing. I personally think the ugly fruit actually eats better! The good news is that they have increased Sumo acreage over the past three years to where they expect next year’s crop to be three times bigger than this year, barring any new curve balls Mother Nature may throw our way.
The overall forecast for all citrus crops this year is for a slightly earlier than normal end to the season – likely late April or even sooner.
Thanks and have a great week – Joe