FORT MYERS, Fla. — Made famous in the 1983 movie ‘Trading Places’, the October citrus forecast sets the tone for orange trading futures, which at the end of the day affects how much growers sell citrus and how you will pay in the grocery store.
The October forecast of the 2023-2024 citrus harvest was released on Thursday, calling for almost 5 million more boxes of oranges over last year. While that sounds promising, the citrus industry is still very much in recovery mode from Hurricane Ian.
“Took close to 9 million boxes off the tree, just from the event itself,” said Ron Mahan, CFO of Tamiami Citrus. “Then what it did to the tree health. The grove damages. It’s been a struggle.”
Mahan says while the forecast for the upcoming harvest would be an improvement over last year, the industry needs orange crop to be close to 30 million boxes they forecast to have pre-Ian.
“Based upon the acreage we have and the cost of production, that quantity is still pretty low from a profitability standpoint,” said Mahan.
While we won't likely see those 30 million boxes this year, Mahan is hopeful we aren’t far off—in part from new citrus greening treatments – just starting to get put into place.
“The fruit crop that is out there on the trees now, the fruit and bloom set didn’t really benefit from the new therapies, but they are benefiting from it now,” said Mahan.
That means the current crops will see less drop from the trees from greening, when in the past 30-40% of fruit would fall from the disease. And next year will likely be even more productive.
“The bloom and fruit set we see this next February-March will be better,” said Mahan.
Not just more fruit, but also better quality.
“In September, the state average juice quality increased for the first time in years,” said Mahan. “Up until recently, that had been dropping and declining.”
Mahan said this improved quality is from the greening treatments.
Matt Joyner, the CEO of Citrus Mutual says the “promise of a comeback for Florida's citrus industry is on the horizon. He went on to say in a statement:
“Growers continue to see improvements in the groves – tree health is improving as a result of new therapies and the size of the fruit is larger and the quality is better than we've seen in recent years.”
Mahan agrees and is optimistic that we will return to a healthy citrus industry, but it still could take some time.
“We are probably 2 years away from saying the citrus industry has any financial health,” said Mahan.