What to Expect from Brazil’s Next Citrus Season

Josh McGillGlobal Perspectives

By Marcos Fava Neves

The first crop estimate was released in May for the 2016–17 citrus season in Brazil, which should be of great interest to Florida’s citrus industry.

The area of orange groves in Brazil, including all varieties, is 416,843 hectares (ha) —6.2 percent smaller than the 2015 figure. There was a considerable reduction of 27,882 productive hectares between 2015 and 2016. This area probably migrated to sugar cane and other crops.

The abandoned groves of the most common varieties total 6,511 ha, contributing negatively to the health of the citrus belt. There are 175.55 million bearing trees and 16.46 million non-bearing trees (including 11.26 million young trees and 5.2 million reset trees), totalling 192.01 million trees. Of those, 66 million (34.4 percent) are over 10 years old, 73.8 million (38.4 percent) are between 6 and 10 years old, 35.7 million (18.6 percent) are between 3 and 5 years old and 16.46 million (8.6 percent) are between 1 and 2 years old.

Compared to last year, the bearing trees increased by 0.8 percent. It caught my attention that the non-bearing trees (1 to 2 years old) fell by 30.6 percent, which shows minor renovation in the citrus industry.

Over 90 percent of the citrus belt consists of four groups of varieties: Pera Rio with 34 percent of the total orange trees, Valencia (including Folha Murcha) with 32.85 percent, Hamlin (including Rubi and Westin) with 15.36 percent and Natal with 10.73 percent. The average density of young groves is 654 trees per hectare. Mature groves have 467 trees per hectare. The use of irrigation technology is present in almost 100,000 hectares, approximately 25 percent of the area.

The total orange production forecast is 245.74 million boxes. This includes 45.86 million boxes of Hamlin, Westin and Rubi; 13.48 million of Valencia Americana, Valencia Argentina, Seleta and Pineapple; 70.38 million of Pera Rio; 84.48 million of Valencia and Valencia Folha Murcha and 31.54 million of Natal.

The average productivity per tree was reduced by 19.1 percent to 1.40 boxes per tree, compared to 1.73 boxes per tree in the last crop. The productivity per area also dropped by 14.8 percent (from 745 boxes/ha to 635 boxes/ha). Brazil might have 22 more fruits per box (from 226 to 248), with an estimated rate of droppage slightly lower (17.49 percent to 15 percent). The hot and rainy climate is responsible for the difference because after the period in which the growing fruits dropped, there was frequent and above-average rain throughout the citrus belt, and there weren’t the necessary conditions for induction of significant new blooms. In the previous crop, 60 percent of the fruits were from the second bloom. This droppage leads us to estimate almost 80 percent of the fruits will be from the first bloom.

What we can conclude from the May forecast of Brazil’s orange production is that there are millions less seedlings being planted, reduced areas and lower renovation. Fruits per tree and their quality are a cyclical issue of productivity and, therefore, of production. Smaller area, fewer plants and less irrigation are structural factors that undermine the future supply potential, turning into a lower potential.

With smaller crops in both Brazil and Florida, even with the drop in demand (in April, there was a 5.8 percent fall in consumption of orange juice in the United States), there will be a period where the supply will be lower than the demand. This will result in lower inventories and higher international prices of frozen concentrated orange juice and not-from- concentrate juice, translated in higher prices of fruit boxes. Whether or not this will further affect demand will be addressed in the next Global Perspectives column.

Marcos Fava Neves is a professor at the University of São Paulo (Brazil), international adjunct professor at Purdue University (Indiana) and author of “The Future of Food Business” (World Scientific, 2013).

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