published: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Government shutdown delays citrus prediction
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING -- It may be a while before Florida citrus growers get the official forecast for the upcoming harvesting season. That's because the USDA apparently has become a victim of the government shutdown. According to Agricultural Statistics Administrator Candice Erick of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Marketing and Development, the planned citrus forecast announcement set for Friday, Oct. 11 has been canceled until further notice.
"Because certain non-essential employees at the USDA were not in the office last week, and apparently are not going toward the office this week, it appears that whatever final work needed to be done prior to this year's announcement has not been completed," said Highlands County Citrus Growers Executive Director Ray Royce.
Growers had heard rumors even last week that the big announcement might be postponed.
As important as the numbers are, Royce indicated that most in the citrus industry already have a pretty good general idea of where the forecast will land since there are a couple of private predictions which come out prior to the annual government figures each October.
Citrus consultant Elizabeth Steger earlier this year estimated the upcoming crop at 130 million 90-pound boxes. Another estimator, the Netherlands-based trade house Louis Dreyfus Commodities, have set their estimate at 132 million boxes. Royce said over the years, those predictions have fallen fairly close to the tree.
"Historically, they have been within 5 or 10 percent of what the USDA numbers have been," Royce said. "Sometimes they are high sometimes they are low. Of course, the USDA also has monthly adjustments throughout the season as well."
The USDA numbers generally set the standard for growers and packing houses because the estimates are achieved via a greater database than the private estimates.
However, more than setting citrus prices, some brokers and processors had looked forward to the USDA announcement as a catalyst to jump-start the beginning of the 2013-14 harvesting season.
"The numbers don't change how much fruit is out there, but the announcement does get people talking and deciding to move forward," Royce said.
Although final calculations have not been completed, Royce said the basis work such as counting is done and that once the government is functioning again, the official numbers could be released rather quickly. The projected mid-130 million box numbers mean there will not be an over-supply, which ultimately will translate into higher prices for the growers at the market. The big question on the minds of the growers is whether or not the early estimates have figured fruit drop in as part of their totals.
"We saw that earlier this year, where a big portion of the fruit hit the ground," Royce said. "Some of it was due to citrus greening and some of it may have been due to adverse climactic conditions and/or stress on the trees."
The debate is to what extent that might or might not happen again. Royce pointed out that to keep juicing and processing plants operating efficiently, growers across the state will have to harvest more than 125 million boxes over the course of the picking season.
While the numbers deal with 90-pound boxes, Royce said reaching that weight involves several variables.
"There's two ways to get there. You can either have fewer, bigger and heavier pieces or you can have smaller, lighter and a larger number of pieces to make up that weight," he said.
Early indications are that local growers have what appears to be some pretty good crops on the trees. Royce alluded to the significant summer rains earlier as a major factor in what appear to be bigger fruit on the trees this time around.
"For the most part, the rains have been very beneficial for the citrus crop of Florida," he said. "You cannot replicate rainfall with irrigation. You just can't," Royce said.
Although there has been some report of root damage to trees in low-lying areas, on the ridge that has not been a problem. There have been some early varieties of citrus already picked in Highlands County, but the harvest will not begin in earnest until later this month. Royce said by then, albeit a bit late, the USDA numbers should already have been released.
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