Orange Juice Prices Rise on Forecast of Small Florida Harvest

Image: Orange Juice Prices Rise on Forecast of Small Florida Harvest

Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 07:06 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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Orange juice prices have risen to a two-year high after the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast the smallest orange harvest in three decades for the country's primary grower, Florida.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the department predicted a drop from last year's 133 million 90-pound boxes to 125 back in October, however the final number was much worse: 110 million boxes. That's 12 percent less than the initial estimate, and 18 percent less than the last harvest. 

Unlike the historic low of 1990, when freezing temperatures drastically reduced crop size, growers point the finger at a deadly bacteria that's been infecting trees in every single orange-growing county.

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The infection is commonly known as citrus greening disease, Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual told The Associated Press.

"We're in the middle of a real battle with citrus greening," he said. "It's putting stress on our trees."

Estimates place the rate of orange-tree infection as high as 75 percent of the state's 69 million citrus trees. All but 5 percent of the yield is used for juice, and that yield is often producing oranges that grow disfigured, green, and bitter.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam reports that, "Citrus greening is an existential threat to Florida's signature crop, and today's revised crop estimate is evidence that the situation has reached a crisis point."

Florida accounts for 66 percent of all U.S. oranges, which are often sold alongside Brazilian oranges to meet demand.

The citrus greening disease couldn't come at a worse time, however, as Brazil is experiencing the worst drought in decades. Growers there will know the full impact of the drought when their harvest season begins in July, just as the U.S. season comes to an end in June.

Average cost for a gallon of orange juice now stands at $6.22, and orange juice futures trading jumped 7.2 percent over the week. Demand for orange juice is down 32 percent over the last decade, and 5.3 percent since last year.

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