Florida’s Once-Signature Crop Is Shrinking Away Amid DiseaseBy
Orange-juice futures surged 30% in past year on supply woes
‘Abnormally dry conditions’ could exacerbate disease damage
Things keep getting worse for citrus growers in Florida, where crop disease and slowing demand continue to threaten what used to be a signature industry in the sunshine state.
The state’s orange crop is poised to shrink to what could be the smallest harvest in five decades, according to Judy Ganes-Chase, president of J. Ganes Consulting in Panama City, Panama. There are signs that processors are handling less fruit than projected, underscoring why production could fall short of government estimates, she said.
Orange-juice futures have surged 30 percent in the past year in New York trading amid the supply woes. Florida’s crop has shrunk for years because of devastation from citrus greening. The crop disease causes fruit to shrivel or drop early from trees, often rendering it unfit for juice. Adverse weather in Brazil also curbed yields last year, helping to push prices for the beverage to an all-time high in early November. Prices have recently declined from the highs amid signs of rebounding South American output.
For the season that ends on Sept. 30, Florida’s crop could fall short of government expectations by as much as 6 million boxes, Ganes-Chase estimates. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will update its forecast on Thursday, has said the crop will reach 71 million boxes, each weighing 90 pounds, or 41 kilograms. Output at 65 million boxes would be the lowest since 1964 and mean a 20 percent decline from a year earlier.
As of Feb. 5, the state had processed 26.7 million boxes of so-called early and mid-season oranges, according to data from the Citrus Administrative Committee, which is administered by the USDA. That’s about 77 percent of the 34.81 million projected for use this season, and compares with a processing rate of 94 percent for this time last season.
This year’s harvest started later, and “we are processing less fruit each week this season to date,” Arthur Chadwell, a manager at the committee in Lakeland, Florida, said in an e-mail. “The upcoming USDA crop estimate later this week will be a good indicator as to droppage, fruit size and remaining early and mid-season crop.”
The trailing processing rate is either because “the oranges dropped prematurely and are on the ground not able to be salvaged” for juice, or the fruits “didn’t size as well as the USDA anticipated,” Ganes-Chase, who’s been tracking commodities over 30 years, said in an e-mail. That latter scenario makes more oranges necessary to fill a box, she said.
In January, the USDA said in a report that fruit droppage this season for Valencia oranges was near “the maximum and projected to continue to be near the maximum until harvest.”
The outlook comes as groves face “abnormally dry conditions” and farmers “continue to battle greening by replacing dead and dying trees, ” the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said Feb. 6 in a report. “Ditches and canals are getting low and in need of more rainfall.”
Groves won’t get much relief through the end of the month, raising the risk that blooms for the 2017-2018 crop will die, according to Donald Keeney, meteorologist with MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Dryness could exacerbate damage from greening for the current harvest, he said this week.
— With assistance by Dominic Carey
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