Growers’ supply chains have been rocked by soaring fertilizer costs and a dearth of applicants to provide needed labor. These and other challenges have forced them and grocers to sharply raise asking prices. With numerous farms in Florid decimated by Hurricane Ian, wholesale and retail prices for oranges, grapefruits, lemons and other citrus options are poised to surge with prime picking season just around the corner.
As reported by Supply Chain Dive, citrus farmers throughout western Florida are assessing the damage done to their property in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Matt Joyner, CEO of the trade association Florida Citrus Mutual, said Ian lived up to the hype, and it will take a long time for the state orange industry to recover.
“We have extensive fruit on the ground,” Joyner said. “This is gonna be a tough event for Florida growers.”
Striking the Sunshine State in the waning days of September, Hurricane Ian will go down as one of the largest to ever hit Florida, which is saying something since the state has seen numerous major hurricane events over the years. Ian was a Category 4 in terms of intensity and produced sustained winds clocked at approximately 150 miles per hour. It’s believed to be the fourth-strongest hurricane to impact Florida based on wind speeds, according to Fox Weather.
5% of Florida devastated by flooding
In addition to trees uprooted by heavy wind gusts, the other issue plaguing orange and grapefruit groves is heavy flooding. As with all other fruits and vegetables, citrus trees need moisture for growth, but the torrential rainfall has overwhelmed planted trees. Joyner noted that many of the trees are now beyond repair since they can’t sustain the level of flooding they have been subject to for several days on end. Also reported by Fox Weather, over 3,500 square miles of Florida received at least 10 inches of rain inside of a 24-hour period. Approximately 3,500 square miles equates to 5% of the state in terms of land area. In Orlando, a major hub for orange farmers, roughly 25% of the city’s total precipitation so far this year came from Hurricane Ian, according to Spectrum News 13.
With substantially fewer oranges for Florida fruit growers to harvest, the cost of grapefruits, oranges and minneolas is almost certain to spike sharply heading into the peak season for selling, which runs from December through March. Even without Ian, farmers haven’t produced as much as they normally do. As Reuters reported from data compiled by the Department of Agriculture, total orange production prior to the storm was forecast to total around 3.5 million tons. That’s a 13% dip compared to 2021 and marks the lowest output for oranges in more than half a century.
Ian certainly isn’t the first major hurricane to affect Florida citrus farmers. In 2017, Hurricane Irma tore a path of destruction throughout the state. The level of damage done to farmers led to a 34% drop in citrus production compared to 2016, based on separate USDA figures.