Fallen fruit and standing water remained in citrus groves in the wettest areas three days after Hurricane Irma in September. (Photo courtesy Seald Sweet International)

Hurricane Irma put the squeeze on Florida’s citrus crop.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated Nov. 9 that the state’s crop will be limited to 50 million boxes, 27% less than a year ago, because of damage inflicted by the storm that made landfall Sept. 10.

Florida’s grapefruit crop, the agency said, will be 4.65 million boxes, or 40% less than last year.

Both numbers are lower than the first forecast the USDA released Oct. 12, and Florida’s citrus industry expects actual harvest numbers to be even lower.

The news isn’t all bad for the fresh market.

Doug Feek, president of DLF International Inc., Vero Beach, Fla., said his company is actually sending more fruit to the fresh market this season.

“Our fresh volume doubled over last October,” Feek said.

“More of our fruit was available for fresh compared to the past few years. We have better quality this year for the fresh market, and there’s good demand. There are plenty of oranges for fresh. There’s going to be less for processing.”

Likewise, Feek said there will be less grapefruit available for export markets and the juice industry.

That means demand, and prices, will be high for fresh and processing, said Al Finch, president of Dundee-based Florida Classic Growers, the marketing arm of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association.

“We have less fruit than last year,” Finch said, “but we expect a good season. Demand on all varieties of citrus has been good. The internal quality of the fruit is good.”

Florida grapefruit
Florida grapefruit (Courtesy Seald Sweet International)

The USDA reported Nov. 9 that 4/5-bushel cartons of size 80 navel oranges from Florida were $17-20. Grapefruit were $18-20 for 4/5-bushel cartons of 36s and 46s, and 56s were $22-24.

Finch said Florida Classic Growers was shipping sunburst tangerines, which should continue into December. Grapefruit harvest started in early November and should continue into January, he said.

Florida navels and hamlin oranges also started in early November, and the varieties were expected to last into mid-December and late December. The cooperative’s valencia harvest is expected to start in January with supplies lasting into June, Finch said.

Marketing director Kimberly Flores said Seald Sweet LLC, Vero Beach, planned to start its valencia harvest earlier than usual to compensate for an earlier finish to the light crop of early and mid-season varieties.

Flores said Seald Sweet lost at least 30% of its oranges and would likely send a higher percentage of its crop to the fresh market.

Veronique Sallin, vice president of IMG Citrus Inc., said the Vero Beach-based company lost 35% of its fruit in the storm.

Sallin said that before the hurricane, IMG had expected its volume to increase because of maturing groves and the acquisition of additional acreage.

After Irma, Sallin said the company expected its volumes to dip 10% to 15% compared to a year ago.

Sallin said IMG expected slow volumes until the end of the year, but “good availability for all markets after December.”

Quentin Roe, president of Noble Worldwide, the sales division of Winter Haven, Fla.-based Wm. G. Roe & Sons Inc., said packouts likely will be lower than usual because of wind scar, but the internal quality of fruit has been good.  

“The quality outlook on tangerines will keep improving with each passing variety,” he said.

 “The later varieties have more time to heal from the hurricane.”