Florida orange crop eludes wintry scare

USDA still predicts 228 million boxes

March 11, 2002|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

WASHINGTON -- Florida growers are expected to harvest 228 million boxes of oranges this season, the same as was forecast last month, as groves escaped damage from a brief cold spell.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's forecast for the 2001-2002 crop is 2.1 percent larger than last season's crop of 223.3 million boxes. Each box weighs 90 pounds. Analysts and growers surveyed had expected a drop from the February forecast, to 226.9 million boxes.

"You never see big changes at this time of year," said Roger Corrado, an independent orange juice trader in New York and president of the Citrus Associates of the New York Cotton Exchange, where orange juice futures trade.

Frozen concentrated orange juice for May delivery fell 0.55 cent, or 0.6 percent, to 92.15 cents a pound on the New York exchange Friday.

Prices were up 21 percent from a year earlier, on signs of reduced supplies in Florida. Florida orange juice supplies have gone from being 6.7 percent larger than a year earlier as of Jan. 23 to being 2.2 percent below a year-earlier as of Feb. 23, according to the Florida Citrus Processors Association.

Temperatures in Florida's citrus belt got as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit on Feb. 28, said Joel Burgio, meteorologist at Meteorlogix LLC in Lexington, Mass.

A record low of 26 degrees for that date was reached in Lake County in the northern part of the state, said Paul Messenger, an Agriculture Department official in Orlando. Fewer than 5 percent of the state's groves are in northern Florida.

Cold weather typically reaches Florida's citrus belt in December and January and then warm weather moves in. This year, it was warmer than usual until the last two weeks, when temperatures fell to cooler-than-normal levels, meteorologists said.

Unseasonably warm temperatures had caused some fruit to mature and drop to the ground early, becoming useless.

"It's been a very strange winter," said Rory Dubin, general manager of O.J. Investments in Arcadia, Fla., which owns 1,300 acres of orange groves.

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