WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2017 - Hurricane Irma dealt a crushing blow to Florida’s orange crop, which is projected to be 54 million boxes, down 21 percent from last year, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said today.

In its latest crop production report, released along with its World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE), NASS projected non-Valencia oranges at 23 million boxes – 30 percent below last year’s production – and Valencia oranges at 31 million boxes, a 13 percent reduction from last season. For the entire country, NASS estimated orange production at 4.34 million tons, which would be 16 percent below last year's number.

The drop in production is severe for Florida growers already battling the effects of citrus greening, but it’s not as bad as many in Florida expected. Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents growers, said its own survey of members projected a harvest “closer to 31 million boxes.” A box of Florida oranges weighs about 90 pounds.

“I’m disappointed the USDA did not delay the traditional October crop estimate until more data could be collected to fully assess the damage wrought by Irma,” Michael W. Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of FCM, said in a news release. “Irma hit us just a month ago and although we respect the skill and professionalism of the USDA, there is no way they can put out a reliable number in that short time period.”

The FCM survey on the impact of the September hurricane “pegged total fruit loss at more than 50 percent, with some reports of 100 percent fruit loss in the southwest part of the state,” the group said.

NASS Florida statistician Mark Hudson defended the report. “We’ll see how it comes out,” he said, but added, “We stand by our numbers.”  

“Our goal is to get it right,” Hudson said, noting that the survey was done the way it’s always been done, by using a tree inventory; a limb count survey to determine the average amount of fruit per tree, and by measuring the size of fruit and then estimating losses from a “drop survey.”

NASS’s estimate last year was for 70 million boxes in Florida, and the final number came in at 68.75 million, Hudson said, meaning NASS was off by about 2 percent. In the past 10 seasons, NASS’s initial forecasts have been off by an average of 6 percent, with differences ranging from 2 percent below to 19 percent above, the service said.

Whatever the final number, it is certain to be well below production from just a few years ago. In the 2014-15 growing season, Florida produced nearly 97 million boxes of oranges.

The orange juice futures market reacted to the report by driving prices down. The November price of frozen concentrated orange juice fell by about 5 cents, from nearly $1.64/pound just before the report’s release to about $1.59 at the close of trading.

In other news from the reports, NASS estimated corn production at 14.3 billion bushels, down 6 percent from last year but up 1 percent from the service’s September report. NASS also increased its estimate of bushels per acre from 169.9 last month to 171.8. “If realized, this will be the second highest yield and production on record for the United States,” NASS said.

Soybean production also is projected to set a record, at 4.43 billion bushels, NASS said. The estimate is down a bit from last month but up 3 percent from last year. Yields are expected to average 49.5 bushels/acre, which is 0.4 bushel less than last month’s estimate and 2.5 bushels less than last year’s crop. The harvest area, however, is forecast at a record 89.5 million acres.

John Newton, director for market intelligence at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the production numbers show how resilient U.S. crops are. At the beginning of the season, “there was so much concern about what corn and soybean yields would end up being,” he said.

But advances in seed and technology are allowing farmers to be much more efficient and weather adverse growing conditions, he said, noting that it might be time to re-evaluate yield curves for corn and soybeans.

Despite the high yield estimates, the December corn futures price rose about 3 cents, to $3.49/bushel, while November soybeans took a jump of nearly 27 cents to close at $9.92/bushel.

Newton said he saw a bigger upside for soybeans than corn “because of the historical performance of the export market.”

Other highlights from the reports:

  • Wheat stocks are estimated to be 960 million bushels, up from last month’s projection of 933 million, but still well below last year’s ending stocks of 1.18 billion.
  • NASS downgraded its estimate for the cotton harvest by 643,000 bales from last month’s estimate, largely due to lower estimates for Texas and Georgia, according to the WASDE report. Nevertheless, the overall production of upland cotton in the U.S. is forecast at 20.38 million bales, up from 16.6 million bales last year. Pima cotton production is projected to rise from about 569,000 bushels in 2016 to 727,000 bushels this year.
  • Rice production is forecast at 179 million cwt (hundredweight) due to lower yields and slightly lower harvest area. If projections hold true, it would be the lowest production total for rice in 21 years.
  • Sorghum production is forecast at 364 million bushels, down 2 percent from the September forecast and down 24 percent from last year. Planted area is down 5 percent from the previous estimate and down 15 percent from last year.


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