As we enter the 2019-2020 Florida citrus season, I find it interesting to ponder the seasons and cycles of our industry. Maybe it’s because “The Lion King” is now a remake (The Circle of Life), or because I am nostalgic as I prepare to take my only child to college, but the terms season, cycle, change, and adjust are more prevalent in my mind than ever.
When we take just a quick look back at the storied history of Florida citrus, we’ve weathered storms, freezes, pests, diseases, trade issues, competition, and skeptical consumers. While citrus greening has been the most severe of those challenges during my time in the industry, the other obstacles are cyclical. In those times of trouble, growers, processors, and packers all find unity.
Our interdependence is highlighted when we are fighting a known enemy. Today, we are faced with high inventories of 100% orange juice, lower consumer demand than any of us would like, and low production. Dr. Ron Ward, Professor Emeritus, UF/IFAS, tells us that generating higher demand begins with higher consumer awareness, and we know that higher consumer awareness has a price tag.
This isn’t the first time we have heard that sentiment. I recall many presentations by past Florida Department of Citrus economists and consultants who said the exact same thing. The difference in those presentations was that our production of oranges was reaching all-time highs instead of record lows.
We were not an industry in recovery. From 1994 to 2004, we grew so many oranges and grapefruit that we had to find innovative ways to move solids by including them in other foods and educating consumers on their health benefits. Margins were still tight, but there was confidence that we were a sustaining – even thriving – agricultural sector.
We now find ourselves back in a cycle we experienced decades ago – building a viable, profitable, strong industry that consumers trust will provide high-quality, wholesome, healthy, safe products. Building, as we all know, requires investment – in grove care, in replanting, in innovation and in marketing.
If early citrus crop projections are accurate and we are not troubled by storms or freezes, this season will put us another step further toward being that confident, sustaining industry again. Now is the time to find some unity on how we shape the next decades of success.