February 2022 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter
Florida citrus growers continue to feel the effects of citrus greening as the production of processed oranges will decline again this year. Forecasts from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) predict that Florida will have lost 80% of its production potential due primarily to this single disease. Despite the fact that COVID-19 has encouraged increased orange juice consumption for health benefits, creating an increased demand for fresh orange juice daily, the lack of fruit supply is undeniable.
Even with increased prices on citrus, growers will still not break even on their crop. Growing citrus and providing fresh fruit and juice for Americans is more than just a business to Florida citrus growers. But, as the industry continues to endure the massive losses of readily available fruit, growers are forced to examine their future plans. “Do I shut down due to increased inputs with little supply? Do I diversify and grow something in addition to citrus to innovate and hopefully keep my operation?” These are real questions growers ask themselves daily.
What’s more is the fact that citrus greening does not just cause fruit to drop early it also impacts the quality of the fruit grown and, therefore, the taste of the juice made. The lower the brix, which is directly tied to flavor, sweetness and quality, the lower the payout. Citrus growers simply cannot afford low payouts. As growers attempt to adapt to this current climate, the Food and Drug Administration has been requested to lower its standard for not-from-concentrate orange juice of 10.5 brix to 10 brix. The FDA is considering this request along with requiring a label that would tell consumers this Florida staple is made with lower quality fruit. A steep impact to the hundreds of Florida farm families who pride themselves on producing the best citrus in America for all families to enjoy. As imports of Brazilian orange juice increases and is mixed with Florida orange juice, growers face a reality that without it their bottom line would be even more severely impacted.
Arial Singerman, an associate professor and Extension economist at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred posed this question during this most recent citrus update published, “What volume of Florida fruit if needed to keep processing plants open? If fruit quality keeps declining and imports rising, process plants might be forced to close down. Once a plant is closed, it is unlikely to reopen, making outlets for Florida processed fruit scarcer and prices (likely) lower for growers.”
Florida’s farmers and ranchers are the most resilient group of people on this Earth. They can endure more challenges than the average business faces. We are grateful to each and every citrus grower who wakes up each day with the hope to carry on and provide fresh, Florida-grown orange juice.