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Good rains set the stage for strong California citrus season

With citrus roots dating back more than a century, the Visalia, CA-based Chuck Olsen Co. continues to thrive in California’s San Joaquin Valley, providing many services to both its growers and its customers.

President Jeff Olsen is the fourth generation of the family to make his living in California agriculture and the second CEO of the Chuck Olsen Co., founded by his father in the mid-1990s. He shares the workload with brother-in-law Tom Salisbury. In the citrus business, the family has some acres of its own and the firm also represents the citrus production of several other growers. Olsen said it is accurate to define, the company as a grower-packer-shipper as well as a commission sales agent. In early January, he told The Produce News that both its navel orange and lemon crops were in full swing providing plenty of fruit for its customers.

0126bb96150d39fc6a83a703864f9b94 “We have had some very good rains this year (the California rain year runs from October through September), which has really helped to size up the fruit,” Olsen said. “The (California) navel crop was supposed to be 7 percent lighter than last year, but with all this rain the fruit is gaining size. I would not be surprised if we ended up with the same volume as last year or maybe even a little more.”

While size was a challenge at the beginning of the season in the fall, Olsen said “right now we are peaking on 72s, 56s and then 88s.” Of course, as the fruit gains a size or two on the tree, fewer individual pieces are needed to fill a carton and total volume, which is counted in cartons, increases. The veteran salesman said the fruit is of excellent quality and the current market allows for promotional pricing at retail. “We’d love to have more retail promotions,” he said. “The price points are there to support it.”

A similar tale can be told for the lemon crop, which also has received a shot in the limbs from the rains, spurring additional growth. “We have a good array of sizes peaking on the 115s and 140s and then 95s and 65s,” Olsen said.

He said for both lemons and navel oranges the rains have increased the size of the fruit and caused a firming up of the f.o.b. price on the smaller sizes. That situation tends to firm up the price across the board. The large fruit is also good for the export market. Speaking of the navel crop, Olsen said demand from overseas — especially Asia — is very good for the industry. It’s no secret that the easy peel mandarin has captured a lot of the publicity and retail excitement afforded the citrus category in the domestic market. Olsen said the export market tends to like the larger navel oranges and is very instrumental in keeping the demand up.

The Chuck Olsen Co. utilizes two labels to sell the navels and lemons. Top Stock is the No. 1 label, while Stagecoach is used to market No. 2 fruit.

Olsen said status quo is a good term to use to define the company this season. There have been no major changes with Chuck Olsen still coming into the office, on a weekly basis, but son Jeff and son-in-law Tom are running the operation.