Two hurricanes just decimated what was left of Florida’s orange crop

The latest forecast projects that about 18 million cases of oranges will be produced in the state in 2022-23, up from the agency’s estimates of 28 million in October that didn’t factor in damage from hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

The most recent numbers show a 56 percent drop in Florida orange production from last season, agriculture officials said. The boxes generally weigh around 90 pounds (40 kilograms).

Other citrus harvests are also expected to decline, with grapefruit producing 200,000 cases less than October estimates and 100,000 cases fewer tangerines and tangelos.

The drop in orange production would make the 2022-23 season one of the lowest since World War II. The harvest was 41 million cartons in 2021-2022 and over 67 million in the previous season.

“This is a punch in the stomach. There’s no question about that,” said Matt Joyner, managing director of the Florida Citrus Mutual trade association.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Hurricane Ian damaged about 375,000 acres (152,000 hectares) of commercial citrus as it passed through the state in late September. While Nicole did far less damage, she also hit some of the same areas in November

For consumers, this already means higher prices for orange juice, the main product made with Florida oranges. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that juice and soft drink prices are more than 57% higher in 2022 than they were in 1997.

And it means food companies will likely have to increase imports of oranges from countries like Brazil and Turkey. California’s 2022-23 orange production is expected to exceed 47 million cartons, far exceeding Florida’s projected total.

In Florida, overall agricultural losses from Hurricane Ian were anchored at least $1.56 billion, according to the University of Florida. In total, counting livestock, vegetables and other agricultural interests, the Category 4 hurricane affected about 5 million acres (2 million hectares) in the state.

Prior to the storm, citrus production in Florida was already expected to decline by a third from a year earlier, due in part to winter freezes and continued disease problems. Growers say hurricanes are another hurdle to overcome.

“If you eat, you’re part of agriculture,” Roy Petteway, a fifth-generation Floridian, said during a recent tour of his woods. “We were expecting a very good harvest this year. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s just devastating.