Florida citrus growers anticipate a good season this year, weather permitting, thanks to good volume and favorable growing conditions.
A Jan. 10 U.S. Department of Agriculture crop estimate forecast the state’s orange volume at 74 million 90-pound boxes, up from 71.7 million last season.
The grapefruit forecast calls for 5.4 million 85-pound boxes, up from 4.5 million in 2018-19.
But prices had some growers concerned.
“Prices are down with less California fruit being shipped to China,” said Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual.
“It has left a glut in the market.”
But growers were elated by the quality.
“This is probably the finest quality we have had in the last eight years,” said GT Parris, commodity manager for Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla.
He said he was impressed with both the interior and exterior condition of the fruit.
“We’re seeing a nice piece of fruit that we’re proud to put into the stores and proud to put into the consumer’s hand,” Parris said.
Doug Feek, owner of DLF International, Fort Pierce, Fla., agreed.
“The fruit tastes excellent,” he said, with better flavor and higher brix levels than last year.
He attributed the improved quality to healthier trees and better growing weather.
DLF kicked off its honeybell tangelo program in early January.
“Our Florida honeybells are a very special piece of fruit,” Feek said.
They have a dark, rich color inside and high brix level, he said.
The company specializes in juice oranges and also ships navels, Orlando tangelos, grapefruit, seedless tangerines and seeded tangerines.
Parris said he is pleased with the way the Florida industry has dealt with citrus greening disease, also known as huanglongbing.
“Growers and researchers have really worked to figure out how to manage it,” he said.
As a result, fruit is starting to rebound, he said.
The fact that there were no major storms this year also played a role in helping trees bounce back, Parris said.
“Everybody is excited.”
One concern is a reduction of the size ranges for grapefruit.
In the past, trees produced a wide range of sizes, but now, most of the fruit is medium to smaller sizes.
That becomes problematic for customers who want a variety of sizes, or who need larger sizes for bags, he said.
Sizing isn’t an issue for oranges, since most go to processing, he added.
Seald Sweet provides grapefruit, oranges and tangerines but is primarily known for its oranges, Parris said.
The Sunshine State is famous for its orange juice, and a report prepared by the Economic and Market Research Department of the Florida Department of Citrus took a look at the state of the juice industry.
“The Florida orange juice situation continues to be adversely affected by the impacts to industry over the last decade that are largely associated with the spread of huanglongbing,” the report said.
The 2018-19 Florida citrus season concluded with a year-over-year increase in juice inventories from the previous season.
Florida’s juice inventory for the 2018-19 season is 490.1 million gallons or 39.4 weeks of supply, compared to 28.2 weeks in the 2017-18 season, the report said.
Florida’s orange juice availability in 2019-20 is estimated at about 1 billion gallons, up 7.5 million gallons (or .7%) from last season.