COVID-19 Citrus Damage to Top $200 Million

Ernie NeffCOVID-19

$200 million

The chief executives of three large U.S. citrus grower associations estimate that “the immediate COVID-19 impact to certain varieties of citrus will be over $200 million.”

Casey Creamer of California Citrus Mutual, Dale Murden of Texas Citrus Mutual and Mike Sparks of Florida Citrus Mutual offered that economic damage assessment in an April 9 letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. The letter was intended to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) put together effective programs funded by the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

“The citrus industry impacts have varied greatly by region and variety,” the executives wrote. “To date, the biggest challenges we are seeing across the industry are due (to) the shutdown of schools and restaurants. Additional movement in the retail sector (has) not compensated for losses in food service for lemons, grapefruit juice, and most specialty varieties, and it is too early to tell what the net impact will be for orange juice … California provides the nation’s supply of fresh lemons with over half of the production traditionally going to food service. Total weekly movement of lemons has decreased by 30 percent in volume” since shelter-in-place requirements took effect across the country.

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“Grapefruit and grapefruit juice movement and sales have also come to a dramatic halt since mid-March as schools, restaurants and retail outlets have either closed or severely limited entrance to stores, and buyers are now cancelling orders,” the letter added.

“While we are projecting significant losses in the $200 million dollar range by the end of the season, it is too early for us to fully quantify those losses to USDA,” the executives stated. “It will be important that the program USDA implements allows for growers to access relief when demonstrating economic harm. We respectfully ask as you put a program in place to help these growers, that USDA strongly considers direct payments as the best option for relief. We support purchase programs continuing and feel a more aggressive posture on these will be particularly effective at stabilizing inventories of orange and grapefruit juice. However, there simply is not enough room in the distribution chain under the current circumstances to make up for the harm being suffered by many individual producers due (to) COVID-19.”

See the full letter here.

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About the Author
Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large