( Photo courtesy Fresh From Florida )

Hurricanes this year have not caused any major disruptions to Florida crops and actually provided some needed rain, said Mindy Lee, bureau chief at Tallahassee-based Fresh From Florida.

Intensive seasonal shipments in October and November are not expected to be affected by any systems in the Atlantic, she added.

Lee said Fresh From Florida staff are assessing Florida exports to determine where and what changes are happening around the world. 

Fresh From Florida marketing retail teams conduct sales campaigns in 25 countries and territories, emphasizing Canada as the largest trading partner, she said.

“Florida marketing researchers utilize analytics to examine the entire U.S. and the reported fresh commodity supply and assess Florida’s positions throughout the year,” Less said. “So far, 2019 appears to be starting well.”

August shipments of 336 40,000-pound trucks were the highest in the past four years, Lee said.

Organic Fresh From Florida commodities are also on the rise.

While organics make up less than 1% of total production for Fresh From Florida, Lee said they grew by 980% from 2008-18.

“Marketing researchers believe our organics production and variety will continue to expand for the foreseeable future, topping 1,000 trucks perhaps as early as 2022,” she said.

Fresh From Florida growers are set to produce more than 300 commodities and ship more than 100,000 40,000-pound trucks of products from now until June, Lee said.

“Florida produces the bulk of U.S. fresh commodities from November to early June, while most other U.S. states are dormant or have either just ended production or just started,” she said. 

“So competitively, we don’t often come head to head with other states’ production, so we’re also viewed as the most locally grown item on the market.”

Lee said Fresh From Florida encourages its industry partners to identify Fresh From Florida products to drive consumers and encourage brand loyalty. 

Florida fresh produce shipments show mixed trends over the past several years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the top five produce items shipped from Florida in 2018 include tomatoes at 791.9 million pounds, sweet corn at 497 million pounds, strawberries at 229.6 million pounds, bell peppers at 206.5 million pounds and cabbage at 193.4 million pounds.

More than 791.9 million pounds of tomatoes were shipped out of Florida in 2018, increasing from 780.2 million in 2017.

Sweet corn shipments also grew from 479.3 million pounds in 2017 to 497 million pounds. 

Orange shipments experienced growth, reaching 186.1 million pounds in 2018, an increase from 153.1 million pounds in 2017. Growth in orange shipments, however, did not exceed shipment numbers from 2015 or 2016.

Here are 2018 fresh produce shipments, with percent comparisons to 2017:

  • Avocados: 25.2 million pounds, -29%;
  • Beans: 126.7 million pounds, -17%;
  • Blueberries: 19.7 million pounds, 3.1%;
  • Cabbage: 193.4 million pounds, -14%;
  • Celery: 62.9 million pounds, -16%;
  • Sweet corn: 497 million pounds, 3.6%;
  • Cucumbers: 99.9 million pounds, -15%;
  • Grapefruit: 65.3 million pounds, -23%;
  • Oranges: 186.1 million pounds: 22%;
  • Bell peppers: 206.5 million, -6%;
  • Strawberries: 229.6 million pounds, -9%; and
  • Tomatoes: 791.9 million pounds, 1%.

Blueberries

While blueberry harvest does not begin until March, Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations at Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms, said he expects Florida to have an average crop.

“Prices have gone down,” he said.

“We have probably lost a few acres across the state. People aren’t farming as much; it is quite expensive to farm blueberries in Florida.”

Labor and the rising cost of labor have also been a challenge for growers, he said.

Last season, Florida produced approximately 21 million to 22 million pounds of blueberries, he said.

Blueberry prices are also going to be lower than they have been in the past few years, Koukoulis said.

“Mexico has a big influence on pricing now with their volume. It does take away that early season advantage Florida had, so we are definitely starting at a lower price than normal.”

During the fall and winter, Wish Farms imports blueberries from Argentina, Peru and Chile, he said.

Argentina will account for about 1.5 million pounds, Peru is set to account for 1.2 million pounds and Chile is expected to contribute 6 million to 7 million pounds, Koukoulis said.

Recently, the U.S. has lost some market share to other countries growing blueberries such as China and Morocco, he said.

Canada remains the main export country for blueberries from the U.S. and Wish Farms, Koukoulis said.

Citrus to rebound

Florida citrus is predicted to continue to rebound from the 2018 season.

  • U.S. citrus utilized production for the 2018-19 season is up 31% from last season, at 7.94 million tons. Florida accounted for 44% of production, according to the USDA.
  • Florida orange production is up 59% from 45.1 million boxes to 71.8 million boxes.
  • Grapefruit is also up 16% from 3.9 million boxes in 2017-18 to 4.5 million boxes in 2018-19. 
  • Total Florida citrus production rose from 2.2 million tons to 3.5 million tons. 

The 2019-20 crop is also expected to surpass the low numbers of 2017-18.

Florida orange production is estimated to reach 74 million boxes, and grapefruit is predicted to reach 4.6 million boxes.

However, total U.S. production is projected to dip slightly with oranges lowering from 124.1 million boxes to 123.7 million boxes, and grapefruit is forecast to drop from 24.1 million boxes to 21.4 million boxes.

 
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