Sunnier Skies for Citrus

Sunnier Skies for Citrus

Latest Forecast Gives a More Optimistic Outlook for Grapefruit

by TIM CRAIG

Florida citrus growers, particularly those who grow grapefruit, got a slice of good news in January when the U.S. Department of Agriculture increased one of its indicators during the monthly projection update for the 2019-2020 season.

 

In its January forecast, the USDA increased its projected grapefruit production by 10 percent, to 5.4 million boxes, over its December forecast. In December, the USDA projected that red grapefruit production would be 4.1 million boxes, while white grapefruit would be 800,000 boxes. For January, red grapefruit projections moved to 4.5 million boxes, while white grapefruit increased to 900,000 boxes.

 

The report noted that, if the projections are realized, production for all varieties of grapefruit will be 20 percent more than last season’s final production. According to the report, both the fruit size and the projected droppage of both varieties of grapefruit are projected to be above average. 

 

January projections for all varieties of oranges, tangerines and tangelos remained unchanged from the December report. The next citrus projection update was expected on February 11.

 

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried said in a statement that she was encouraged by the USDA update and said it was the result of the “fortitude of Florida citrus growers.”

 

“(The citrus growers) have faced natural disasters, citrus greening, and other obstacles, but continue working hard to produce our state’s signature crop,” Fried says. “The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services remains committed to working with industry partners like the Florida Department of Citrus and Florida Citrus Mutual to promote and protect this long-standing industry. We will continue to work together in pursuit of new technology and research, and innovative techniques to support Florida-grown citrus.”

 

In October, the USDA released its initial report for the 2019-2020 season and estimated that the Florida orange crop would be at 74 million boxes, a 3.4 percent increase over last year’s crop. The increase was a bit of good news to citrus growers, many of whom are still recovering from the Hurricane Irma-ravaged season of 2017-2018 and the ongoing effects of citrus greening.

 

The good news of the projection seems to be holding true in the groves for many growers in Central Florida. Vic Story of The Story Companies reported that he’s seeing a better crop in his groves and that the other growers he’s talked to are saying the same things.

 

“We’re picking a better crop, considerably better for us,” he says. “I think the good growers are seeing the same things on early oranges. We kind of expected it based on what we were seeing and we are pleased with that.”

 

The Story Companies’ holdings include more than 7,000 acres in Central and South Florida. The company also provides management, marketing, and harvesting services for other growers. Story noted that he is seeing not only increased sizes in his crop, but increased quality.

 

“The interior quality is a little better for us,” he says. “We get paid for the interior pound solid and we’re seeing that we are averaging a 0.2-pound solid better than last season.”

 

Story says that for growers who are covered under long-term contracts, those growers are seeing good returns. However, he noted, the growers who are in the cash market are not getting good returns because the cash market seems lower than average. 

 

“It’s not a big issue for us, or for the growers who are contracted ahead, but the cash market affects about 10 percent of the growers in our industry,” says Story. “A lot of growers do that, they get whatever the market prices give them, and for the last few years they’ve been able to do better than we have because the market was stronger. Now, it seems to be averaging out, but the cash market is a lot lower than we expected.”

 

Story noted that the lowered cash market could be traced to two variables: consumer consumption and a higher-than-normal supply already in the marketplace. Citrus consumption has remained fairly flat over the past few years, and, together with an oversupply of citrus from previous seasons on hand, it is driving prices on the money market down. 

 

Pricing is a big issue among the growers, particularly those in the spot market, agrees Andrew Meadows of Florida Citrus Mutual.

“We have a huge inventory this season,” he says. “We need to work on getting those inventories down in order to get the grower to earn more and become profitable.”

Meadows said Tropicana announced a sizable marketing campaign for this year, joining the efforts of the Florida Department of Citrus’ ongoing campaign. Florida Citrus Mutual is currently working with the federal government to increase its juice purchase to $90 million, up from $47 million previously.

 

“There are some good things happening out there, but it won’t just be one effort,” he says. “Collectively, though, it should help.”

 

Meadows noted that in the past 15 years, the per-capita consumption rate has fallen from 6 gallons to 2 gallons per year.