WASHINGTON — U.S. growers will harvest 12.5 million tons of citrus fruit during the 2007-2008 season, according to recent projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If those estimates come to fruition, it will represent a 22% spike from this past year's harvest, and a significant recovery for an industry that was devastated earlier this year by a harsh freeze in California.
California is expected to produce 2.2 million tons of oranges this season — 29% more than last year. The size of the crop, as well as an earlier start to this year's season, already helped drive down prices significantly in September and October, compared with the same period last year, the report noted.
Florida's orange crop, the vast majority of which is processed into juice, is expected to reach 7.6 million tons during the 2007-2008 season — the biggest crop since 2003-2004. However, that yield would still be 26% lower than the state's average from 1999 through 2003, reflecting lingering damage from the hurricanes that tore through the state's groves in 2004 and 2005, as well as citrus canker that continues to trouble growers in the region. As a result, retail orange juice prices are expected to remain the same, or decline slightly, as processors attempt to rebuild their inventories.
By contrast, lemon and grapefruit production is expected to decline slightly this season. Battered by loss of acreage and trees, as well as smaller fruit, Florida's grapefruit crop is forecast to decline 8%, to 1.1 million tons — the lowest yield in 75 years, excluding the 2004 and 2005 hurricane years. Also, Texas is expected to produce 4% fewer grapefruit this season, although fruit size and quality are expected to be good. Larger anticipated crops in California and Arizona will help make up some of the difference, but the report anticipates “increase[d] grapefruit prices in both the fresh and processing markets this season.”
Lemon trees in California and Arizona are still recovering from last January's freeze, and are expected to produce “the smallest crop in recent times” — 3% lower even than the 2006-2007 freeze-affected crop — keeping prices for the fruit high. Availability is expected to improve later in the season, as production moves north toward Ventura County and the Central Valley. But, the report noted, “this season's below-average crop size may result in consumers paying in the over $2 per pound range” as demand begins to peak next summer, “especially since this season's crop will be following already established high prices from last season.”