California Citrus Growers Anticipate Good Year Despite Challenges

Daniel Cooper California Corner, Pests, Production


Two California citrus industry leaders recently shared their perspectives on the prospects of the industry. 

Al Bates, chief executive officer and president of Sun Pacific, said the yield for this year’s crop is mediocre but that “the fruit size is larger and ideal from a consumer perspective.” 

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) projected a 1% increase in navel orange production from the 2022–23 production year while also seeing a 3% size increase. Bates said that for his growers, production is about average. 

Early in the production season, growers saw the effects of thrips damage on most navel orange blocks. “The thrips damage has been the worst in a very long time, and the external quality is not as nice as it normally is,” Bates said.  

California Citrus Mutual (CCM) reported that on some blocks, up to 80% of fruit was scarred by thrips, while overall averages were at 30%.


Jim Phillips, president and chief executive officer of Sunkist, said California citrus farmers need the support of the legislature regarding water access. He said water access is outpacing almost every other concern for growers. 

Both Bates and Phillips noted that the substantial amount of rainfall and snowpack over the past two winters are supporting growers in the fight for water access. These wet winters also lead growers to anticipate a shorter crop and larger sizes with increased pressure from thrips generated through a prolonged, mild spring. 

Phillips recommended that growers stay in touch with their local Groundwater Sustainability Agency, and “understand the dynamics in particular water districts.” He also urged growers to stay informed about the changing requirements for groundwater pumping and to utilize access to surface water provided by irrigation districts. 


International competitors in Egypt, South Africa, China and other countries are hurting the demand for California citrus. These competitors are meeting the demands for export at a cheaper price than California fruit.  

Moreover, the disruptions in the supply chain at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been corrected. There is a “continuation of increasing volume and infrastructure improvements in other countries,” said Phillips. 

Phillips said Sunkist has “a lot of product relative to demand.” He said citrus fruits are a “foundational nutrition item” in most American households, and he believes the overall outlook for growers is bright. 


In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, backyard citrus trees are the source of the oriental fruit fly (OFF) invasion. The CDFA is actively working to eradicate the pest. If the OFF were to spread to commercial groves, it would have devastating effects on the market.  

Phillips said only a very small portion of Sunkist growers are located in OFF quarantine zones. In Ventura County, the Queensland fruit fly is also affecting some lemon growers. “By and large, the state and USDA are doing a good job of imposing mitigation protocols,” Phillips said. 

Source: AgNet West

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