A Century of Citrus
Due to a combination of disease, hurricanes, and an ill-timed freeze, the Sunshine State is harvesting its smallest orange crop in nearly 90 years. The current estimate is around 18 million 90-pound boxes of oranges, which would amount to less than half of last year’s relatively poor haul. From a historical perspective, 1998’s peak output was 93% higher.
Going back even further, this is the first time California will have produced more oranges than Florida since World War II, back when scientists had only just figured out how to make concentrated OJ. What’s more, California’s yield is typically for eating, not juice making.
To add insult to injury, Florida state officials say this year’s fruit is, on average, unusually small. Put it all together and this means orange juice fans are facing high prices.
Paying Up for Pulp
If Trading Places had come out a few decades later, it would’ve made some millionaires. Commodities analysts say orange juice is like “liquid gold” these days. Frozen concentrate OJ futures were one of the sector’s top performers in 2022, nearly hitting a record price last month and rising 40% overall.
Consumers at grocery stores are paying higher prices as well, with not-from-concentrate juice going for over $10 a gallon in some spots. Reconstituted juice is selling for $6.27 a gallon — a record — and has seen its price rise 20% since 2016.
Greening Doesn’t Mean Grow
Right now, one of the biggest challenges facing orange growers is a plant disease called citrus greening. It is bacterial, incurable, and causes oranges to drop from branches in an unripe and useless state. The disease spreads through psyllids, which are tiny winged insects that suck sap from orange trees.
In response, some farmers have started growing peaches, pineapples, hops, and other alternative crops.
Agricultural experts say the Florida orange may be in trouble long term, but as prices move higher, growers are more incentivized to invest in methods of stopping psyllids. There’s also a larger focus on keeping them from spreading to other crops.
For many consumers, however, the main focus will be adjusting your budget to ensure you can still afford your morning glass of liquid gold.
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