Citrus greening, warmth, dry weather all combine to "drop" citrus at an alarming rate

FORT MEADE, Fla. - The knife cut through the orange skin with swift precision, revealing the juicy, ripe goodness that is the pride of Polk County.  You could even SMELL the goodness.  But before one of these beauties... can get squeezed into your juice glass as that fresh-from-Florida eye-opener, it's got to be picked by growers like Larry Black, General Manager with the Peace River Packing Company.

"We grow grapefruit oranges and tangerines on our 200 acres," he told me.

And this time of year, while the OJ ads are running with great fervor in the shivering Northeast, and demand is up, the fruit is down... on the ground.  

"The warm weather, the dry conditions, plus this Citrus Greening disease that we've been fighting for over five years in our groves have caused an abnormal percentage of the crop to drop to the ground so it's not harvest-able," he said

Larry says that industry allowances for citrus drop can maybe max out at about 12 percent... this year, the figure is closer to 20.  One-in-five of the oranges that could be harvested simply can't be.  He says supplies are still OK, and there so prices should stay stable.  He just won't make as much this season... partially due to our weirdly warm and decidedly dry winter.

So then the conventional wisdom would be that if there was cold weather, that would slow down some of this...

"Right," he said -- quickly agreeing with my initial take.  "We love cool weather in our industry, it's just freezing temperatures we're fearful of.  Citrus trees are susceptible to temperatures when they dip below the freezing mark, so this weekend, we'll definitely keep an eye on the weather as the forecast is down in the mid 30s in our area.

That'll make both of us... no make that  lot of us. 

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