Florida Citrus Growers Report More Damage From Another Freeze

January 13, 2010

Citrus growers in central Florida Tuesday reported more freeze damage to their oranges from another night of freezing temperatures and said they also feared leaf and twig damage could hurt the 2010/11 crop.

Citrus growers in the Sunshine State, which produces more than 75 percent of the U.S. orange crop and accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s orange juice supply, have been hit by more than a week of unusually low temperatures caused by blasts of arctic air pushing south.

Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s biggest growers group, has acknowledged the citrus crop was hit by the sub-freezing temperatures but has said it is too early to accurately estimate damage to the $9 billion industry. It also says that ample inventories of orange juice exist.

Another night of freezing temperatures raked citrus groves in some central areas, growers said Tuesday morning.

“I talked to several growers who had in some of their locations their coldest temperatures of this 10- or 11-day event. We saw a lot of frost,” Ray Royce, executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association in central Florida, told Reuters.

“We had some problems come again out of last night. We had some areas where guys cut quite a bit of ice in fruit,” said Royce, whose group represents growers in the second largest citrus-producing county in Florida.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that over the course of the event … we’re going to at least in some places have very significant fruit damage,” he said, adding this could mean either freeze-damaged fruit falling rotten from trees or having reduced juice content.

He said growers also feared the freeze could hurt the seasonal flowering bloom on trees and the subsequent 2010/11 crop.

“There’s no doubt that we’re going to have very significant leaf loss. We’re going to have certainly some small twig die-back, and it can’t help but affect next year’s crop to some degree,” said Royce.

But farther south in the state, producers grouped in the Gulf Citrus Growers Association in southwest Florida appeared to have come through better.

“My speculation is that people fared better than the night before,” said Roy Hamel, spokesman for the Gulf Citrus Growers group.

He said some growers in the areas worst affected by the previous severe Sunday-to-Monday night freeze had suffered fruit damage of around 10 percent to 12 percent.

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s monthly supply/demand report forecast Florida’s 2009/10 citrus crop at 135 million (90-pound) boxes, unchanged from last month’s estimate.

But analysts said an actual tally of damages was not reported by USDA because the government report, which was released on Tuesday, was compiled before the freezing weather struck.

(Reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Miami and Rene Pastor in New York; Editing by Walter Bagley)

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