The Florida citrus industry is taking hits from all sides. The industry is facing the lowest orange harvest of the past 90 years or so, winter freezes have damaged crops, citrus greening has yet to be mitigated, and diseases like postbloom fruit drop are an ever-present concern. To add insult to injury, the industry is just coming off an estimated $247.1 million production loss from Hurricane Ian, which ravaged Florida’s citrus country in late September of 2022. However, a glimmer of relief came in the form of an emergency meeting at the Florida Department of Citrus in Bartow in late February. There, the Florida Citrus Commission voted to temporarily lower the minimum Brix level to help out Florida citrus growers.
The Brix Emergency Rule
The Brix level of orange juice basically measures the amount of natural sugar in the juice. Traditionally, orange juice processors can only accept juice oranges with a minimum Brix level of 8. However, many Florida citrus growers are struggling with crop damage this season due to Hurricane Ian and winter freezes and the Brix levels of their oranges are not high enough; citrus greening and a high number of young, newly planted citrus trees are also to blame.
The emergency rule would allow processors to accept juice oranges with a minimum Brix level of 7. This means many more growers will be able to take their juice orange harvests to processors and have their oranges accepted. The alternative is citrus growers having to pay double transportation costs to and from the processor with a crop of rejected oranges.
The emergency rule will expire May 23.
New Brix Rule and the Juice at the Grocery Store
The Florida Citrus Commission maintained that the new, temporary minimum Brix level will not affect how Florida orange juice tastes to consumers. Optimal Brix levels for orange juice is between 8 and 11, and any juice with a Brix level between 7 and 8 will be blended with orange juice with a higher Brix level to average the levels out.
More Bright Spots on the Horizon
Florida citrus growers have more help coming. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed budget included more than $2.7 billion for Florida ag, with $29.4 million earmarked for citrus research and the Citrus Health Response Program. Additionally, Rep. Scott Franklin, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Republican Sen. Rick Scott proposed a bill in early February called the Block Grant Assistance Act. This bill would grant the agriculture secretary the authority to give block grants to Florida for citrus growers affected by the last two hurricanes.
This column is sponsored by Griffin Fertilizer Co., and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.
BIO: Mike Roberts is the Vice President of the Frostproof, Fla.-based Griffin Fertilizer Co. Roberts joined the company in November 2011. He has spent the majority of his career in the fertilizer/agchem industry. Roberts earned a Bachelor of Science degree in citrus production from Florida Southern College in Lakeland. For more information, visit griffinfertilizer.com.