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US: Early citrus crop predictions bleak

Although the formal forecast by the USDA is still a couple of months away, an early look at the pending 2014-2015 citrus crop appears to be bleak, with at least one private consultant calling for the worst harvest in a half century.

French trading conglomerate Louis Dreyfus Commodities has forecast that Florida would produce 96.6 million boxes of oranges during the upcoming harvest.

Private forecaster Elizabeth Steger, another closely watched independent forecaster, has estimated the crop at just 89 million boxes.

Both forecasts are below the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final 2013-14 estimate of 104.4 million boxes. If correct, either predicted amount would be the lowest production since 1965-66, when Florida’s output was 95.9 million boxes.

Last year’s harvest already was the lowest in nearly three decades.

Highlands County Citrus Growers Association Executive Director Ray Royce has seen the reports, but is not ready to give up quite yet.

“What is it Mark Twain said? The reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to get that low. I just don’t think its going to drop another 15 percent.”

At this point, from talking with member growers and looking at area trees, Royce said the crop does not appear to be as bad as the initial forecasts, at least in Highlands County.

“It’s certainly not going to be a huge crop but I believe that this year will be at levels comparable to last year,” he said.

Royce said the “drop rate” of fruit was one of the determining factors in both private forecasts. He believes it may not be as bad as they fear.

“There is some optimism that it won’t be as bad this year as it was last year,” he said. “This season we have had a more uniform bloom and more traditional weather in the early season.”

Moreover, although there is no “cure” for greening, Royce said growers are finding better ways to relieve stress on the trees and better manage the debilitating effects of the disease.

“It’s about how we feed and water the trees to lessen the drop and other negative effects of the disease,” he said.

Last year’s weather also resulted in significantly smaller fruit than in years past. Royce said this year’s weather could result in more traditional sizes for oranges, grapefruit and speciality fruit.

“Last year, we had a very long bloom and the fruit was set over an extended period of time. This year, the fruit appears to have set within a couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s sizing up nicely and uniformly and we’ve had good rain here, but let me say that it’s early yet.”

At least at this point it appears that for the most part trees look stronger and healthier here.

On the other hand, Royce said while things appear a bit better here and in the southwest portion of the state, reports from Florida’s east coast were not as encouraging.

“In all, some groves are doing better than others, some management regimens are working better than others,” he said. “All I can tell you is that the guys that I really respect in this business are planting new trees.”

Upon release of the Steger and Dreyfus independent reports, prices of concentrated orange juice futures jumped a reported 2.5 percent to $1.47 per pound. Those increases reportedly come at a particularly bad time as demand for OJ reportedly is trailing off in light of additional options for consumers.

Source: newssun.com

Publication date: 8/25/2014


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