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Freezing Florida temperatures add to citrus disease woes

By Guy Montague-Jones , 15-Jan-2010

The freezing temperatures in Florida this month added to the woes of citrus fruit growers and processors already struggling to fight the spread of crop disease.

According to early anecdotal evidence cold weather could have wiped out 10 per cent of the crop for the season. The full extent of the damage will only become clear when the USDA publishes its report in February but the futures market has already given its verdict.

On January 11, the price of frozen orange juice concentrate fell 13 percent to $1.3186 a pound on the ICE Futures US exchange. Prices recovered because the weather had not been as bad as some had feared and forecast.

But the market reaction may give a misleading picture of the reality on the ground for the Florida citrus industry.

Kristen Gunter, a spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Processors Association, said the cold weather comes in the context of weakening production in the Sunshine State.

Greening Disease

Gunter said harvests have been hit over the last couple of years by the emergence of Citrus Greening Disease, a bacterial citrus disease first discovered in Florida that is destroying acres of valuable crops.

She said the disease is picking up steam, and no cure has been found prompting the industry in Florida to invest millions of dollars in the search for a solution.

Disease is not the only factor that has hit production in recent years. During the house price boom land was taken out of production as growers saw an opportunity to cash in their capital.

Valencia worries

Growers are currently harvesting some frozen fruit right now but the big question mark hangs over the “Valencia” crop that is due for harvest at the end of March or early April. Gunter said growers and processors are hopeful that this premium crop will remain on the trees.

Another big worry surrounding the recent cold weather is that it may have killed off trees that farmers may be unwilling or unable to replant. It takes 7 years for a citrus tree to reach its production potential and that is a long time for a farmer to wait for a return on investment.

As for processors Gunter said that in order to mitigate for any major changes in supply or price shocks they have several strategies available to them.

These include pre-purchasing and sourcing juice supplies from other producer areas such as Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico.

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