Florida citrus growers are experiencing their worst fruit droppage in history.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, droppage rates are above the maximum for oranges, grapefruit and tangerines.
In a March 8 report, the USDA said fruit droppage in valencias increased sharply since December and reported grapefruit droppage the highest in any season not affected by a freeze or hurricane. The statisticians usually exclude the 2004-05 and 2005-06 hurricane seasons from analysis.
Droppage for the early and midseason oranges is steadily increasing and projected to be the highest since 1970 while navel droppage is reported the highest since 1991.
Late season valencias experienced 22% droppage. Navels, which finished in January, experienced 27% droppage and white and colored grapefruit averaged 21% droppage, according to the USDA.
Peter Chaires, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Packers Inc., Maitland, said the droppage news took many by surprise.
“The early and midseasons, when they started falling, that really got a lot of peoples’ attention,” Chaires said. “Some feel like it’s kind of the ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances, as it all came together at one time. But we’ve had good luck putting good fruit in the cartons. What’s in the market should be in good shape.”
Chaires said droppage varies by grower and said some valencia growers lost much fruit while others were unscathed.
Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., said the droppage is creating slightly less supply that’s keeping a floor on price.
“Droppage hasn’t been nearly as severe in grapefruit as it’s been in processed oranges,” he said. “We have had an abnormally large volume of small fruit. We are seeing a little more undersized going out.”
Richey said shippers communicated the sizing information to their customers early in the season so retailers planned their promotions accordingly.
Chaires said many blame huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening, for the droppage. He said the jury’s not out on that and said HLB likely made the situation worse.