COVID-19 Impacts on Florida Citrus

Ernie NeffCOVID-19

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The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Florida’s citrus industry were recently summarized by Fritz Roka, director of the Florida Gulf Coast University’s (FGCU) Center of Agribusiness. Roka discussed pandemic impacts on both the citrus production side of the industry and the packing and juice-processing segments.

Here are some highlights of Roka’s presentation that apply to both the production and packing/processing segments:

  • Because the pandemic hit at the end of the citrus harvesting season, COVID-19 had minimal impact on harvesting.  
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  • Zoom meetings, which became very popular during the pandemic, provided the benefits of employees spending less time away from the farm, reduced travel costs and increased productivity.
  • There were added, but not significant, costs for personal protective equipment. There were also added costs for bonus and hazard pay.

Long-term concerns resulting from the pandemic for both the production and packing/harvesting segments are:

  • Will a sufficient number of H-2A workers return? H-2A is a federal labor program that allows temporary foreign guest workers into the United States to perform agricultural work.
  • Will fresh fruit and juice prices increase over pre-COVID-19 levels?

Some pandemic impacts relating specifically to the packing and processing segments are:

  • The food-service component of the business collapsed, primarily affecting frozen concentrated orange juice.
  • Sales pivoted to retail grocery outlets, primarily for not-from-concentrate juice, which has higher profit margins.

Roka cited one long-term concern specific to the packing and processing segments: Will procedures for COVID-19 control keep infection numbers under control?

Roka’s presentation was included in a webinar, “The Florida food system and COVID-19: Documenting effects for a more resilient future.” The webinar was part of a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) disaster impact analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to joining FGCU, Roka was a long-time agricultural economist at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee.

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About the Author
Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large