Citrus looking good
Highlands Today – December 14, 2011
It should be a very good Christmas season for local citrus growers, because three weeks into the harvesting season, projections are slightly up from last year, and there appear to be few, if any, problems for the industry.
“There has been nothing dramatic this week, but that’s good news. Things are going pretty smoothly,” said Ray Royce, president of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association.
Preliminary estimates are that the crop will be from 5 percent to 10 percent greater than last year’s and that the fruit will be slightly larger than during last year’s harvest.
“The season looks good. Looks likes this year everything is going to run at least 5 percent above last year,” Royce said.
Although it is not proof that all things are going well, Royce said there has been less groaning from growers this year.
“I haven’t heard much complaining, so I assume things are going well,” he said.
The fresh fruit harvest for growers started in September, but the harvest for processing citrus started in late November.
Another good sign for the industry is that prices and markets are strong this year.
“The prices are really good, and the markets are holding steady. Every grower has his own individual situation but, in general, the economic situation this year is very good,” Royce said.
Royce said he believed the economic news was good statewide, not just in Highlands County.
“I believe things are going very well everywhere. We just happen to be at the geographic center of it,” he said.
John Merritt, vice president of operations for Consolidated Citrus in Venus, agreed. The company has groves all over the state, including two in Highlands County.
“The harvest is going very well,” Merritt said. “We’ve had no problems so far this year. Our estimates are about the same as last year, but we are picking a little over the estimates.”
Merritt said Consolidated Groves is harvesting at least the same amount of fruit as last year.
Last year, there were about 140 million boxes of citrus harvested in the state, with Consolidated Citrus accounting for about 9 million boxes of that total.
Merritt also agreed that “prices are very good this year. Hopefully, the prices will stay up. … I definitely think it will be a good season.”
The only blur in the future for the industry is the greening disease that has reduced the number of acres that produce Florida citrus, but the industry is combating the disease, he said.
Jason Cloud, the harvesting manager for Smoak Groves in Lake Placid, said the harvest started early for his company because the fruit matured several weeks earlier than expected.
“The maturity came approximately three weeks early when compared to the last couple of years,” Cloud said. “We have adequate labor this year, and the processing is coming along very nice. Our harvesting began about Nov. 14, when typically we don’t begin until around the first of December.
Their harvest appears to be significantly higher than last year, but Cloud emphasized that only a small portion of the groves have been harvested
“On the few blocks we have completed, we have been up from last year anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. But that is only some very small acreage. We’re not looking at the whole season yet,” he said.
Cloud echoed the view of others in the industry when he said he foresaw no problems this season.
The 2011-12 Florida all orange forecast released by the federal Agricultural Statistics Board is 147 million boxes, 5 percent more than last season’s production. The total is composed of 74 million boxes of non-Valencia oranges (early, midseason, navel, and Temple varieties) and 73 million boxes of Valencia oranges. The navel orange forecast is 2.7 million boxes, 4 percent of the non-Valencia total.