December 14, 2022

Today’s AP article in my local newspaper reported on the effect of this year’s hurricanes on Florida’s orange crop.  According to the US Department of Agriculture the twin storms of Ian and Nicole will cause a drop of 56% in Florida orange production compared to last year.  The latest forecast calls for about 18 million boxes of oranges to be produced this year, while last October the Department had estimated 28 million boxes.  Each box weighs about 90 pounds (40.8 kg).  The Florida Agriculture Commission said Ian damaged about 375,000 acres of commercial citrus in late September.  While Nicole did less damage in November, it struck some of the same areas.  Other citrus forecasts are also down, with grapefruit production coming in 200,000 boxes fewer than estimated and tangerines and tangelos at 100,000 fewer boxes.  The decline in oranges would make this the lowest season since World War II.  The harvest was 67 million in 2020-2021 and 41 million boxes in 2021-22.  The University of Florida estimated overall orange losses from Ian was at least US$1.56 billion.

When I looked online, I found an orange is a fruit of various citrus species in the family Rutaceae, and primarily refers to the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), to distinguish it from the related bitter orange (Citrus aurantium).  The sweet orange reproduces asexually, and varieties of sweet orange arise through mutations.  The orange originated in a region encompassing Southern China, Northeast India, and Myanmar, and the earliest mention of the sweet orange was in Chinese literature in 314 BCE.  As of 1987, orange trees were the most cultivated fruit trees in the world and are widely grown in tropical and subtropical climates.  The fruit of the orange tree can be eaten fresh, processed for its juice, or for its fragrant peel.  As of 2012, sweet oranges accounted for approximately 70% of the world’s citrus production.  In 2019, 79 million tons of oranges were grown worldwide, with Brazil producing 22% of the total, followed by China, and India.  Orange juice is a worldwide favorite, and 85% of all oranges produced are used to make juice.

Florida orange production was already in decline prior to this year’s hurricanes.  Florida has been hard hit by a bacterial infection called citrus greening.  The incurable disease is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri) insect, which was first detected in Florida in 2005.  Trees affected by citrus greening produce smaller, bitter-tasting fruit.  Infected trees are cut down and burned to help stop the spread.  According to Statista, during the last growing season before citrus greening (2003-2004) emerged in a commercial context Florida produced 242 million boxes of oranges.  There is also a decreasing number of orange trees in Florida as land is developed that had been used by growers, and by growers deciding to just get out of growing oranges.  In 2006, there were 36.2 million Valencia orange trees in Florida, but that number has since fallen to 30.4 million trees.

THOUGHTS:  I enjoy eating oranges during the winter and usually buy a large bag to place in the refrigerator to keep them from spoiling.  The juiciness of the Valencia orange variety makes it best for juice, but I do not have a juicer.  I eat them and prefer the Navel orange variety as they are easy to peel.  While they are not as juicy as the Valencia orange, I do not like struggling to get the peel off, and usually lose a portion of a Valencia orange that I cannot get off the peel.  I try not to buy this orange but if I mistakenly buy a Valencia orange it tends to sit until it goes bad, and I throw it way.  There are dozens of different varieties of orange grown around the world and each differs in size, acidity, juiciness, peel thickness, and when they ripen.  Like the people who grow and prefer them, each has qualities that make them unique.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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