The Van Trump Report

Weather and Disease Dent U.S. Orange Crops

America’s orange growers are on track for another decline in production this season with USDA most recently estimating an -11% drop from last year’s output. In Florida, the nation’s largest orange grower, USDA is forecasting a production decline of -16%, which would be the state’s smallest crop in at least 75 years. Production in California, number two in output, is set to fall -5% while the orange crop in number three grower Texas is seen plunging a whopping -62%.    

Florida oranges are important because they are the main source of everyone’s favorite fresh-squeezed breakfast juice. Due largely to Florida’s disappointing crop, U.S. orange juice production is estimated to fall -7% to a record low 215,000 tons in 2021/22. 

As has been the case for nearly two decades now, citrus greening disease is the main culprit behind Florida’s orange crop decline. The disease, known as Huanglongbing (HLB), is spread by a disease-infected insect, the Asian citrus psyllid. Infected trees produce fruits that are green, misshapen and bitter, and unsuitable for sale as fresh fruit or for juice. Once a tree is infected, there is no cure, and most infected trees die within a few years. While the disease poses no threat to humans or animals, it has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops throughout the United States and other parts of the world. Citrus greening was first identified in Florida in 2005 and since then, orange production has fallen by around -70%, with overall citrus production down roughly 75%.  

California provides the country with most of its fresh oranges. Both mandarin and navel harvests in California this season are predicted to be much lighter and shorter in length due to drought, water, and cost issues affecting this year’s crops. To some degree, it is also the result of a record 2020-21 crop. In fact, the crop was so big that 4% of it wasn’t even picked, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Shippers extended the market well into August in an effort to sell as much of the crop as possible. But whenever there is a heavier crop, according to Citrus Mutual president Casey Creamer, it is naturally followed by a lighter crop.

Record heat this summer also caused many California citrus trees to drop what fruit was forming. Orchards in some of the more water-stressed areas of the state saw production declines of 50% or more. Amid historic drought conditions in 2021, Citrus Mutual reported, the spot market for surface water increased 400%—if supplies could be found at all. In August, the State Water Resources Control Board cut off water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to thousands of Central Valley farmers.

The dramatic decline in Texas’ orange crop is largely ongoing fallout from the severe February 2021 Winter Storm Uri. While most of the 2020-21 orange crop had been harvested by February, the extreme cold the storm delivered did severe damage to citrus trees and caused a massive loss of 2021 blooms and subsequent fruit potential. Young trees (1-2 years) and older trees were especially susceptible. Many orchards ended up being bulldozed, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.  

Production gains in other countries will help supplement U.S. supplies this year. USDA estimates global orange production for 2021/22 to be up 1.4 million tons from last season, largely thanks to larger crops in Brazil, Mexico, and Turkey. Those gains will more than offset lower production in the U.S., as well as Egypt and the EU. (Sources: AgriLife Today, University of Florida, Wall Street Journal, USDA)

Abandoned dead and dying Orange trees that no longer have water to irrigate them near Bakersfield, during the 2012-2017 California Drought, California, USA. October 2014.
Frozen citrus tree in Texas

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