Fruit drop “is probably the No. 1 concern” of the citrus growers he knows, says Ray Royce, executive director of Highlands County Citrus Growers Association (HCCGA). “Fruit drop and profitability are going hand in hand,” he adds.
“There’s a tremendous struggle now to be profitable, given the relatively low harvest numbers,” Royce says. “I think growers believe that if they were able to harvest the majority of fruit that they were able to hang on the tree for most of the year, that they might be in much better shape. But we hear about such incredibly high drop rates.”
Many growers have told Royce their production dropped 40 to 50% last season compared to the previous year, with virtually all of the production loss due to fruit drop. “If you weren’t losing 150 boxes an acre to the ground in the weeks prior to harvest, that would have a significant impact on your profitability,” Royce says.
High levels of preharvest fruit drop have been common in Florida groves since HLB became endemic in the state.
Royce says progressive growers “seem to think that they have the ability in the presence of HLB to grow a tree, to put a good bloom on and hopefully even set a good crop.” He says the question is whether the fruit can stay on the tree long enough to make it to the processing plant.
Trade issues have been a concern recently to Highlands County growers as “we’re seeing a little more fruit going into the fresh stream,” Royce says. “Folks are concerned about trade and having fresh fruit coming in from primarily Mexico.” He adds that growers are also concerned that with lower Florida production levels, processors might import more orange juice from Brazil, Mexico and other places, leading to less demand for Florida juice oranges. Learn more about one grower’s concerns about the negative impact of imported orange juice last season on Florida grower returns.
For the most part, though, HCCGA grower-members are content with the prices they’ve received for their juice oranges recently, Royce says. “Most of them are certainly happier with the contracts they’re working under now than they were several years ago,” he says. “We should expect that with the limited crop size over the past couple of years, and with historic high levels of fruit going into the not-from-concentrate market, that we should continue to receive high pricing from the processors.”
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