Costa Rica Orange Production to Rebound

Ernie NeffInternational

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

Costa Rica’s orange production is expected to rebound to 300,000 metric tons in the 2021-2022 season, pushing total orange juice exports slightly higher to 33,000 metric tons. That estimate was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service in December. Orange production in Costa Rica was 290,000 metric tons in 2020-21 and 285,000 metric tons in 2019-20.    

Despite some success in mitigating the worst impacts of citrus greening, the disease is expected to limit near-term prospects for Costa Rican industry growth, the Foreign Agricultural Service said in its annual citrus report for the country.

Two companies, TicoFrut and Del Oro, control most of the production and practically all processing of oranges in the country. TicoFrut is the largest company in the sector. Smaller producers have been exiting orange production altogether over time as orange yields and orange prices have made other activities more attractive.

Harvest is mainly from January to May, with peak production in March and April. The vast majority of commercial oranges is processed for juice concentrate for the export market. A relatively small volume of fresh fruit is sold for local consumption, and processing plants also sell small volumes of juice to local food processors for branded products and for further processing.

The total Costa Rican area planted in oranges has held steady at 21,000 hectares the past three seasons. Farmers are gradually increasing the number of trees per hectare by using the “Flying Dragon” pattern. That pattern supports higher tree density, easier farm management and lower costs per hectare. This innovation has allowed farmers to significantly increase tree density, moving up from 300-450 trees per hectare under traditional planting patterns to 800-900 trees per hectare with the Flying Dragon.

The Foreign Agricultural Service anticipates major growers will direct investments toward replanting existing area with new trees and new patterns, rather than increasing area planted, in the near- to medium-term.

Citrus greening disease was first identified in Costa Rica in 2011 and remains a major concern for producers. Citrus greening is reportedly endemic throughout most of the country’s growing areas. The largest farms have had some success mitigating the effects of the disease by establishing strict controls, including constant farm surveillance, inspection of all farms and eradication of 100% of affected plants. Smaller producers, less capable
of and less likely to invest in agrochemicals and biological controls, have reportedly suffered heavier losses.

Costa Rica exports most of its orange production as frozen concentrated orange juice. The United States continues to be Costa Rica’s leading destination for orange juice exports in 2021. Total exports to the United States through October 2021 were 16,582 metric tons (valued at $31.1 million), already surpassing the 13,177 metric tons (valued at $26.9 million) shipped to the United States in 2020. Costa Rican orange juice enters the United States duty-free under the Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service

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