The Van Trump Report

Why Orange Juice Prices Could Stay Near Record Highs

According to the USDA, Florida’s orange production peaked in 1998 at 244 million boxes and has been on a precipitous decline ever since. A significant decline occurred after the historic 2004 hurricane season with production falling from 242 million boxes to 149.8 million, then dropped below 100 million boxes in 2015 for the first time in decades. The 2022-23 season is the first time since the 1930s that production has dipped below 20 million boxes.

Florida Department of Citrus Director of Economic Market and Research Marisa Zansler said this year’s dramatic decline began with a poorly-timed freeze in January 2022 followed by Hurricane Ian in September 2022. Florida oranges were harvested in May due to the season being cut short by the hurricane, which is estimated to have knocked out around half the state’s orange crop. Some growers lost everything.  

It can take growers up to a year to see the full scope of damage a hurricane causes, according to Darin Hughes, vice president of commercial citrus grove management company Krause Services. This year, Hughes says harvesting went by quickly because there simply wasn’t a lot to pick. The University of Florida (UF) recently pegged the damage to the state’s agricultural sector at $1.07 billion and to citrus growers at $247 million.

In addition to weather disasters, citrus greening spread by the Asian citrus psyllid has been rampant. The bug passes the bacterium into the citrus tree while feeding on its sap. According to the USDA, citrus greening is one of the most serious citrus plant diseases in the world. It has infected millions of acres of citrus crops around the world and there is no known cure or effective prevention.

Once a tree becomes infected, its nutrient flow will slow and eventually impair its ability to produce fruit, while the plant itself will deteriorate until it dies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2022 Commercial Citrus Inventory reported 343,659 acres of orange trees statewide. That’s less than half the 1996 acreage when more than 800,000 acres of orange trees stretched across the state.

Florida isn’t the only orange producer suffering from citrus greening. The world’s largest orange juice producer, Brazil, has also taken a hit. In fact, some industry insiders say that citrus greening is even more prevalent in Brazil than the US, which could mean longer-term problems with the country’s output. The initial forecast for Brazil’s 2023–24 season stands at 309.34 million boxes, which, if true, would be -1.55% less than the previous crop.

The latest production troubles mean consumers can look forward to even higher orange juice prices ahead. Orange juice futures have climbed from around  $1.70 per pound a year ago to over $3.15 per pound. Figures from Nielson published by Florida Department of Citrus show retail prices in the US peaked at almost $9 a gallon in July, up from a little less than $8 at the same time last year.

Analysts expect OJ prices to stay elevated for the rest of the year, at least. However, according to Rabobank, the demand side of the equation should not be underestimated. “A ‘weaker’ consumer in Europe and North America, already feeling the effects of inflation, could reduce OJ consumption at an even faster pace in 2H 2023 and cause the market to be more balanced—more quickly than current estimates. (Sources: Reuters, Fresh Fruit Portal, International Baker, Food Navigator)

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