Growers React Differently to Crop Forecast

Ernie Neff Crop Forecast

crop forecast
Growers gathered at Putnam Ranch in Zolfo Springs, Florida, to hear the USDA’s initial crop forecast.

Florida citrus grower Kyle Story of The Story Companies thought the initial Florida orange crop forecast for the 2021-22 season was “realistic.” But the 47-million-box forecast struck fellow grower Paul Meador as low. Meador is president of Everglades Harvesting and Hauling and serves on the Florida Citrus Commission.

The crop forecast, well below last season’s 52.8 million boxes of Florida orange production, was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service on Oct. 12.

“We’re still quite a ways away from the juice harvest beginning,” Story said. “We’ll see what the weather does between now and then. The fruit still has a chance to size, which can help the crop number to come up. But I think it’s a very realistic number based on what I see within the industry.”

“I think the number was lower than I was expecting, but I think it was lower than the whole industry was expecting,” Meador said. “We keep waiting for that changing moment when the crop begins to increase steadily. Some of us thought maybe that would be this year. So it was disappointing, but things could be worse, too.”

Meador added that since the weather has been so moderate for the last 12 months, maybe the crop will do a little better than the estimate this year. “There doesn’t appear to be as many pieces of fruit falling on the ground,” he said. “The size may not be better, but it seems like the fruit quality might be a little better. So maybe this year they’re (forecasters) on the low side rather than the high side. So, I’ll remain optimistic.”

“We see plant improvement year over year,” said Story. “We see green, healthy trees, particularly up and down the Ridge. We see new trees that have been replanted doing very well, and a whole host of rootstocks that are doing well. Each is different, and they require different inputs, but we learn more and more each day.”

Meador has been experimenting with gibberellic acid (GA), which University of Florida researchers have strongly recommended recently as a means to increase yield in HLB-affected trees. “We have a little bit of experience with gibberellic acid. We’re going to continue those experiments, maybe expand them a little bit and see what kind of return we get,” Meador said. “We are making an application as we speak.”

Asked about possible GA use, Story said, “All options are on the table. The GA option is more recent … But we don’t have any specific plans much differently than to keep the trees as healthy as we can.”

“We’re doing a heavy reset this year; no new solid plantings,” Story reported. “We’re going to plant between 12,000 and 15,000 resets on about 3,000 acres. So it’s very aggressive in the next coming months.” He said he will reset “almost exclusively Valencia-type oranges for juice” on numerous rootstocks.

Meador weighed in on the possible impact of a low crop size on fruit prices: “Unfortunately, there’s only so much a consumer can pay. There’s only so much that a retailer’s willing to pay. I don’t know that we’re at the ceiling yet, but we’re probably getting close to that.”

Story and Meador were interviewed by Citrus Industry magazine editor Tacy Callies soon after the initial forecast was released.

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Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large

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