You wouldn't expect optimism in numbers that show a decline in Floridas fresh citrus shipments, but a spurt of improvement in December has the Florida citrus industry looking up.
It's true, according to the Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Administrative Committee, through early December shipments were down by almost a third on grapefruit and tangerines and by 36 percent on navels, compared to the same time last season.
But by mid-December the grapefruit and navel numbers improved to -23 percent and -31 percent. Not good, certainly, but on the upswing.
Since the 2005 hurricanes, fresh shipments have been declining by an average 5 percent a year, including last season, committee manager Duke Chadwell told Doug Ohlemeier, eastern editor of the industry magazine The Packer.
This year, season-to-date, overall fresh shipments have declined 25 percent compared to 30 percent last year.
Working with the organization since the mid-1980s, Chadwell said this seasons numbers are record-breakers.
Ive never seen loss like this compared to a natural disaster, freezes or hurricanes, he said.
Theres always hope this is an anomaly to see such a decrease in one season. Were still here and are still trying to be in the business. Its just a rough road to hoe.
Several factors could influence the steep declines, including a later than normal season start, smaller sizes, increased fruit drop and continuing losses from citrus greening.
The latest committee numbers show that as a percentage of shipments, fresh movement is down or similar to previous years for most oranges and grapefruit, but up for navels and tangerines.
Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Vero Beach-based Riverfront Packing Co. LLC, said many factors are contributing to the losses, including a large inventory of South African grapefruit cutting into Florida shipments to Japan.
Despite the challenges confronting Florida citrus growers, Richey told The Packer he senses a bigger optimism in the industry. Why? Because domestic grapefruit shipments last season increased 6 percent from the previous year, shipments to Europe and Canada were up 4 percent and 8 percent respectively and there was a 6 percent boost in movement to Pacific Rim countries, with the exception of Japan, which posted an 18 percent drop.