1 of 2 | Orange juice prices are expected to spike next year as Florida growers deal with the worst crop in decades due to hurricane damage and citrus greening disease. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Orange juice is about to get even more expensive after hurricanes and disease damaged many of Florida's citrus groves.
Orange juice prices, which have increased along with other groceries due to inflation, could see even bigger price hikes in 2023 due to supply chain issues as growers in Florida grapple with the worst crop in more than 80 years.
"It is an incredibly heartbreaking moment for growers," said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus.
"To grow a crop for nine months and then watch it fall to the ground, or watch trees blow over, is incredibly devastating. In a time when you're seeing declined production anyway, it's a kick in the gut," she said.
Most of Florida's oranges are used for orange juice production, forcing orange juice makers to look to the international market, according to Shepp who said imports could soften prices.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the orange forecast for the 2022-23 season is at 2.83 million tons for the United States, which is down 18% from the previous season.
Florida's orange forecast stands at 20 million boxes, or 900,000 tons, which is down 51% from last season.
"The December crop forecast reflects the very real challenges that Hurricane Ian, Hurricane Nicole and the ongoing impacts of citrus greening have created for growers across the state," Shepp said. "Florida citrus growers are resilient. They have withstood centuries of extreme weather, and this hurricane season is no exception."
In addition to damage from severe weather, disease is a growing issue as Florida farmers deal with citrus greening in "100% of Florida groves," according to Shepp.
Citrus greening, which has no known cure, cuts off nutrients to orange trees. Over time, insects carry the infection to other trees, which produce fewer oranges and eventually die off.
The impact of weather and disease on Florida orange groves will trickle down to grocery stores where consumers will find limited supplies and higher prices, according to economists.
"We're going to have higher prices because we're so short on supply -- historically short," said Tanner Ehmke, lead economist for dairy and specialty crops at CoBank.
While Ehmke expects retail prices to follow orange juice future prices, which have spiked 42% this year, consumers may not see the impact for another three to six months.