This year’s Florida grapefruit crop, at its peak from now until March, is one sweet story.
Like grapes for fine wine, grapefruit is different every year, said Mike Yetter, international marketing director for the Florida Department of Citrus, Lakeland. And this year has been an exceptional vintage.
“The natural sweetness, or brix level, of our grapefruit measured over a 10 even before Oct. 1, which is extraordinarily high,” said Yetter.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture crop forecast released Dec. 1 showed the brix level at closer to 11.5, he said, and by Dec. 10 the coloured variety in the Indian River growing area had hit 11.57.
“We usually don’t even hit 11 by Dec. 1, so that’s pretty darn good,” Yetter said.
“We feel this is a crop our growers are going to be proud of.”
It’s one bright spot in Florida’s beleaguered grapefruit industry, which has declined by half in the last decade, to 20 million boxes, because of hurricanes, commercial development and disease.
“We now export more than we consume in the U.S.,” Yetter said, “but the actual consumption of fresh grapefruit has gone down because of availability.”
In another welcome development, The Packers of Indian River Ltd., in Fort Pierce, FL, is set to replant some of the 3,500 acres of citrus it grows and packs.
“We are starting a small program, replanting 100 acres a year,” said Paul Genke, director of sales and marketing.
“It shows that our owner the Rogers family, in its fourth generation, is committed to staying in the business.”
Genke said the groves will replanted in star ruby, reds and rays, which have a dark pink blush similar to the flame grapefruit, with red flesh that’s lighter toward the center.
“The rays taste good and produce well, and they’ve found good acceptance with consumers, especially in our export markets,” he said, which make up 65% of the company’s business.
With the stampede to lycopene-rich red grapefruit, traditional white grapefruit is almost an endangered species, Yetter said, though the Japanese continue to import close to 1.5 million cartons.