Florida Citrus Farmers Expect Smallest Crop in 80 Years Due To Hurricane Ian

by Suzanne Halliburton
getty images

Hurricane Ian continues to be bad news for Florida. And now it’s bad news for American consumers, especially those who love orange juice for breakfast or mimosas for brunch.

It’s all because the state’s citrus growers might see their smallest crop since World War II.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that the state likely will produce 28 million boxes of oranges. That’s the fewest on record since 1943. For context, last year’s crop came in at 41 million boxes of oranges. Each box is loaded with 90 pounds of oranges.

Florida, with its $6.7 billion citrus industry, used to produce most of the nation’s orange crop. Now it’s second to California. Still, Hurricane Ian could continue to play havoc at grocery stores across the country. NBC reported Wednesday that the cost of orange juice was an average of $2.90 for a 12-ounce can. Orange juice futures for November delivery rose on the International Exchange to $1.997 a pound. That’s an increase of almost 5 percent. It’s the highest level since 2016. And the price has jumped 55 percent over the past year. It’s not just Florida and Hurricane Ian impacting commodity prices. There are supply issues in Brazil, the top orange grower in the world.

Hurricane Ian tore through four million acres of lush Florida farmland when it came ashore on Sept. 28. Most of the damage was to pasture land. The storm was especially damaging to Hendry County, which was just inland from where the eye of Hurricane Ian came ashore near Fort Myers in southwest Florida. Hendry County farms grow citrus, sugarcane and vegetables. The county has 75,000 acres of citrus groves. That makes it the largest producer of citrus in the state. It’s also No. 2 for sugarcane and third for growing vegetables like tomatoes.

Farmers initially wondered whether Ian would be as severe as Hurricane Irma, which hit in 2017. But it’s worse than Irma. The wind blew the oranges to the ground. And once the oranges fall, the fruit can’t be sold.

“It is going to take a while to know the full impact,” said Ray Royce, director at Highlands County Citrus Growers Association. “But in certain areas we’re seeing 50% of the fruit on the ground already.”

Highland County, which is in central Florida, has about 375,000 acres of farmland. Orchards represent about 25 percent of the land. It also was hard hit.

The decrease in production, thanks mostly to Hurricane Ian, will be significant for the orange juice market. Jack Scoville, the vice president for Price Futures Group in Chicago, talked about the issue with Fortune.

“I doubt we will see a big recovery. The money isn’t there for growers.” Scoville said. The state’s citrus crop already had experienced drops for the past three years. Scoville said the prices for orange juice might not escalate as much as consumers turn to Vitamin C supplements to offset their morning OJ.