Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

Too Much Water Is Diluting Juice From World's No. 1 Orange Crop

Updated on
  • Citrus crop disease forced country’s fruit groves to relocate
  • Second season of watery oranges with no end in sight

Brazil, the world’s largest orange-juice exporter, is producing oranges with excessive levels of water for a second season and there’s no end to the problem in sight.

The underlying cause is citrus greening disease, which has forced farmers to change how and where they grow the fruit. Brazilian companies crushed 288.93 boxes of oranges to produce 1 ton of juice in the season that started in July, while the historical average is 250 boxes, CitrusBR said in a statement on Monday.

In comparison, during Brazil’s highly productive 2002-03 season, the industry yielded the same amount of juice with only 224 boxes, CitrusBR data showed. There’s no sign of any improvement in the next few years, CitrusBR Executive Director Ibiapaba Netto said by phone.

“We believe that 275 boxes per ton will be the new average from now,” Netto said.

Citrus greening, which causes fruit to shrivel or drop early from trees, appeared in Brazil in 2004. It has forced farmers to eradicate millions of trees to keep the bacteria from spreading and prompted the relocation of orange production to other parts of Sao Paulo state, the country’s main growing area.

“Fruit is being cultivated in colder areas or in places that require irrigation,” Juliano Ayres, a manager at industry foundation Fundecitrus, said in a telephone interview. “It has resulted in bigger fruit, though, with more water inside.”

Brazil’s crop last year was the smallest in more than two decades amid the disease and the impact of the El Nino weather pattern. Drought cut yields in the main growing areas of Sao Paulo and the Triangulo Mineiro region in Minas Gerais state. Weak profitability has also spurred small Brazilian farmers to exit the market.

The crop from Florida, the world’s second-largest orange juice producer, has contracted for years because of the citrus crop disease and it is poised to shrink to what could be the smallest harvest in five decades. Orange-juice futures have surged 23 percent in the past year in New York trading amid the supply woes.