As Florida industry officials continue to assess damage from Hurricane Irma, I wonder how close we are to the orange juice apocalypse, or ojapocalypse.
According to coverage in the Sun Sentinel today, some citrus producers in southwest Florida say they’ve lost 80% to 90% of their citrus crop, while growers in other regions said perhaps 40% was lost to the storm.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Senator Marco Rubio, Congressman Tom Rooney and Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart surveyed agricultural damage from Hurricane Irma and met with affected farmers in Clewiston, Fla., according to the Florida Department of Agriculture.
We don’t know how much of a staggering blow that Hurricane Irma is to the citrus industry, but reversing the trend of declining orange juice consumption will be that much harder for Florida growers after the storm.
U.S. production of orange juice peaked in 1998, when the U.S. produced 1.54 billion gallons of single strength orange juice. In 1998, orange juice consumption was 5.7 gallons per person.
With Florida’s struggles with citrus greening in the last decade, the amount of orange juice produced in the U.S. has declined to just 609 million gallons in 2015, the most recent year with available statistics. Meanwhile, U.S. orange juice consumption - even with imports of orange juice more than 60% above 1998 levels - has declined to 2.87 gallons per person in 2015, just half of 1998.
Aside from the question of how soon the federal government can give aid to Florida (curb your expectations) and much will it be (not enough), how eager will growers be to put their financial future on the line again with oranges and grapefruit when citrus greening has not been solved?
Fresh grapefruit also has seen a big decline in output because of Florida’s struggles, with U.S. consumption falling from 7.8 pounds in 1983 to 5.9 pounds in 1998 and 2.2 pounds in 2015. U.S. grapefruit production has soured from 2.79 billion pounds in 1989 to just 1.04 billion pounds in 2015.
Consumers, unfortunately, may find old or new alternatives to orange juice and fresh grapefruit in the years during which researchers are looking for answers and growers clinging to hopes of recovery.
I was looking at Amazon reviews for Tang, the blast from the past “orange” drink that was introduced to Baby Boomers in 1957.
One review said:
“What can you say about tang? Bought 12 of them to put in storage for the apocalypse. I’ll be one of the few people with tang orange juice.”
We can hope that grand apocalypse never comes, but the Florida citrus version is lurking uncomfortably close.