California citrus is a nearly $3-billion-dollar industry. Heavy rains have soaked the Central Valley with the greatest impact on the citrus groves of Fresno and Tulare County. The downpour has brought the citrus harvest to a temporary halt.
Bob Blakely, vice president of California Citrus Mutual, a citrus industry group, is not overly concerned about the current rain delay. When weather impacts the citrus groves, he hears about it directly from farmers who grow navel oranges, mandarins, lemons and more.
“The growers and shippers I've talked to are certainly happy to see this rain,” Blakely says.
Blakely says while the extra moisture is welcome after several years of drought, the downside is a pause on harvest of navel oranges.
The fields are so muddy farm workers can't operate heavy equipment in the groves. And citrus can't be picked while it's wet.
“We've had fruit in the packing houses up until the past few days to fill orders but I've heard the inventories and floor counts are getting a little low now,” Blakeley says.
“So we're probably going to experience a few days of tight supply.”
Blakely's not too concerned about an economic loss from this rainy stretch. Roughly thirty percent of the Central Valley’s navel orange crop is already harvested.
Blakely says that given a few days of dry skies and a little sunshine, the fruit on the trees will dry off and the soil won’t be so water-logged. Farmers will get back into the field.
“The field men for the packing houses, they know the groves that are sandier soils, drier soils. Those will be the first ones to check to see if they can get their equipment in,” Blakely explains.
“Sometimes what they'll do is they'll part the trailers on the roadside rather than bringing them into the field rows. They'll just bring the bins out to the road and load them. It's a slower way of harvesting but it does allow them to get out and get some fruit to the packing house and start filling orders.”
Blakely expects to see some of that harvesting begin this weekend and if there isn’t more rain, Central Valley citrus growers will be back to normal operations.
“There are areas like Kern County that haven't gotten as much rain as other areas and they'll go back into those areas and start re-filling their inventory,” Blakely adds.
As for citrus growers in the foothill region of Placer County, Rich Colwell of the Mountain Mandarin Grower’s Association says they're doing fine.
The harvest for Satsuma mandarins is wrapped up. And Colwell explains that clementine and navel oranges are in the early-to-middle stage of ripening at this time.
So this rainy interlude is a good thing for citrus in the Placer County micro-climate.