ODESSA, Fla. - Bruce Rottman is like a Florida citrus psychic. By measuring limbs on orange trees, he and his team will help predict this year's state-wide orange crop.
"It's very hard. Hot," Rottman explained. "There's a lot of ants and bugs out here. Mosquitoes. It rains."
The nine USDA limb count crews will visit 3,200 sample groves across Florida in the next few weeks. Their calculations, combined with other information like size and drop data, will comprise the citrus forecast for growers, processors, and consumers.
"It basically determines how much juice there is going to be which will determine how much they'll pay for orange juice or orange products," said USDA Florida Agricultural Statistics Deputy Director Jim Ewing. "With no information, you'd have much greater price fluctuation."
The citrus forecast program, dating back to the 1940s, is funded by a sales tax paid by citrus growers.
The forecast typically hits within 3-5% of Florida's final crop outcome. Last year, it predicted 147 million oranges. The final count totaled 146.5 million.
"People are going to make decisions based on the information available," Ewing said. "You make better decisions if you have better information."
Adam Burchenal and his grandfather run CeeBee's Citrus in Odessa. Their juice depends on 250 acres of citrus harvest every year, so they pay close attention to the citrus forecast in order to readjust their business practices to keep prices stable.
"It helps you prepare for the next year that much better," Burchenal said. "Five cents a gallon, that's the difference between a big customer and not having that customer."
The data collected in Odessa and across the state will then travel to Washington, D.C. where the citrus forecast will be released October 11 at 8:30am. Consumers could see its effects in grocery stores almost immediately.
The forecast compiled by the USDA, including the 35 limb count crew members like Rottman, helps businesses like Burchenal's focus on what they do best.
"We sell fresh-squeezed, unpasteurized, just an orange squeezed and put into a bottle," Burchenal said.
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