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Asian Insect Destroying Florida Orange Juice Crop

Apr 24, 2014 12:19 PM EDT
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An Asian insect that has invaded Florida orange groves is destroying farmers' orange crops, thereby threatening the entire orange juice industry.

Florida is the world's second largest grower, producing three quarters of the overall orange juice supply, and growers are frantically working to save their loot.

The gnat-sized insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, spreads citrus greening, causing fruit to wither and drop early. 

"Crops continue to be impaired by greening and further aggravated by droughts," Shawn Hackett, the president of Hackett Financial Advisors Inc. in Boynton, Beach, Fla., told Bloomberg Businessweek. "This process will continue throughout 2014 and reach historic tightness danger levels that will require a rationing of demand."

According to a Bloomberg survey, this year Florida will output 110 million boxes of oranges, compared to 133.6 million from the previous season.

With supply at its lowest since 1985, demand for the citrus fruit will likely drive up orange juice prices.

Frozen concentrated orange juice for May delivery rose 1.15 cents, or 0.7 percent, to end at $1.65 a pound, the highest since March 29, 2012, on the ICE Futures US exchange, the Wall Street Journal reported.

And as luck would have it, Brazil, the number one orange exporter, is experiencing the worst drought in decades, damaging their harvest as well.

"We have the two largest producers in the world both having poor crops at the same time," Mike Seery, president of Seery Futures, a brokerage firm in Plainfield, Ill., said. "That's bad."

Scientists are currently working on a remedy, and growers are combating the bacterial disease with insecticides, fertilizer and extra minerals. But they aren't just fighting to save their jobs - the state's $9 billion citrus industry is responsible for 76,000 jobs.

"This isn't about the industry fighting to make a profit," Rep. Ben Albritton, a fourth-generation grower, told Sunshine State News on Friday. "It's about us fighting for survival. Remember, citrus isn't just a crop in Florida, it's part of our character."

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