Florida’s smallest citrus crop in a century to put squeeze on shoppers
Orange juice may become pricier and less sweet over the next several months as Floridas famous groves yield the smallest crop of citruses in nearly a century. The states orange trees have suffered from hurricane winds and a mounting epidemic of disease this year, accelerating a 20-year decline in citrus production. Florida has long produced the majority of domestic juice oranges, meaning a smaller crop squeezes the available quality and supply. This years dismal harvest probably will make already expensive orange juice even more so. A gallon has climbed above $10, per data collected by the Nielsen analytics company, rising 17.5 percent since the beginning of 2022. It may also make fresh juice taste less sweet. Greening disease, which causes trees to produce green and bitter fruits, has infected nearly all of Floridas groves. Even ripe oranges from infected trees have become smaller and less succulent. Juice prices will stay high in the coming months, according to analysts. U.S. manufacturers typically source extra oranges from Brazil, which is also experiencing a shortage after heavy rains rotted some citrus trees. Prices are going to stay high, and demand is going to go down because consumers cant afford it and may not like the taste, said Judy Ganes, who heads commodities research firm J. Ganes Consulting. The Florida orange supply is in a race to zero, she said. The next big squeeze: Florida orange juice could skyrocket in price Florida, which features flowering oranges on its license plate, is set to produce 18 million boxes of citrus this season, including 15.75 million boxes of oranges, the Agriculture Department forecast this month. The state last had a harvest of similar size in 1928, when Mediterranean fruit flies infested its citrus trees and sparked what the journal Science called a wave of hysteria. At its peak in the 1990s and early 2000s, Florida regularly produced more than 250 million boxes of citrus fruit, advertising its juice as liquid gold and powering what University of Florida economists say is now a $6.9 billion industry. Production has been falling steadily since the mid-2000s, but this year has been particularly difficult. Florida growers experienced an unusual spell of bad weather in the fall as Hurricanes Ian and Nicole battered their trees at the start of citrus season, which runs from September to June . Then a December cold snap nearly froze Floridas groves; though cloud cover saved the states fruit trees from destruction, experts say the weather depressed harvests. Farmers are also contending with longer-term challenges. The insects that cause greening, which is incurable , came to Florida in 1998 and threaten more groves each year. Its discouraging, said Matt Joyner, chief executive of Florida Citrus Mutual, an advocacy organization for citrus growers. We are almost 100 percent infected. Joyner said many citrus farmers hope federal disaster aid will defray costs from hurricane damage. The U.S. House voted to approve block grants for citrus growers Monday as part of a bill introduced by Florida Rep. C. Scott Franklin (R). The Senate is now considering the bill. Even if conditions improve, each difficult harvest erodes Floridas citrus business and drives prices up. Lower yield has led some processors who juice whole oranges and separate peel from pulp to shrink their businesses, according to third-generation grower Marty McKenna. About two-thirds of the states processors closed between 2006 and 2016, The Washington Post reported in 2019. A state long linked to oranges looks to a lucrative future with hemp We lose processors every year, McKenna said. When we get the [greening] disease defeated, will we have the infrastructure still here? Some Florida farmers are considering switching from the states flagship product to hemp or other crops, a change pushed by the former state agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried (D). Scientists at the University of Florida are also working to develop citrus trees that tolerate or resist greening. Until then, consumers may have to accept a higher price for their juice or abandon the Florida orange. Were not going to see citrus supplies increase anytime soon, said Darin Newsom, senior market analyst for the financial data service Barchart. I just dont know if were going to have the same buying enthusiasm. Understanding our climate: Global warming is a real phenomenon , and weather disasters are undeniably linked to it . As temperatures rise, heat waves are more often sweeping the globe and parts of the world are becoming too hot to survive . What can be done? The Post is tracking a variety of climate solutions , as well as the Biden administrations actions on environmental issues . 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