Florida juice standards relaxed to cope with Wilma

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Florida Citrus

The Florida Citrus Commission (FCC) has agreed to relax maturity
standards for oranges and grapefruits processed for juice in a move
to help growers impacted by Hurricane Wilma.

The temporary changes, which will be in effect until December 1, involve a 10 percent relaxation on the standards for juice content and acid ratio.

However, the changes will have "no perceptible effect whatsoever on the juice that consumers receive,"​ according to the FCC.

"The only real effect of this change is to allow the earlier harvesting of some of the otherwise wholesome fruit that may have been knocked from the trees by hurricane winds or which is likely to drop early due to the stress from Hurricane Wilma. We do not have a precise number for how much fruit this would be, but we expect it is a very small amount,"​ said the FCC's marketing communications manager Andrew Meadows.

"The standards for juice content and solids to acid ratio normally change at different times of the year to reflect different stages of the growing season. This temporary change sets the minimum standards to the same levels that would normally apply in March,"​ he told FoodNavigator-USA.com.

Florida's citrus industry was still struggling to get back in track after last year's disease and natural disaster when Hurricane Wilma hit early last week.

Latest figures reveal that some growers have reported losses of 20 to 50 percent of their harvest, while others remained unaffected. However, the full extent of the damage will be revealed next month when the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes a revised crop forecast.

In addition to crop and tree damage, the growers are concerned that the hurricane could have increased the spread of citrus canker, a bacterial disease that is spread by wind-driven rain.

Citrus canker, which was first detected in Miami in October 1995, was in the process of being eradicated when last year's hurricanes spread the disease across the region. According to Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's largest citrus grower organization, the disease has claimed 65,000 acres of grove acreage this year alone.

Earlier this month, the USDA had announced that it expected the state to turn out 27 percent more oranges this year, forecasting the production of 190 million boxes of oranges, 24 million boxes of grapefruit and 8.3 million boxes of specialty fruit.

These figures, which were still well below the pre-hurricane levels before 2004, are likely to fall even further, with inevitable effects on prices for the fruit juices and ingredients derived from these.

"Growers get more money for their fruit in the fresh market, so this will now be their number one priority. Commodities such as fruit juice and ingredients will take second place,"​ said Mike Yeder, international marketing director at the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC).

Yet as the industry struggles, demand for the fruit is on the rise. Increased citrus consumption fits with the general trend towards growing consumer awareness about nutrition and health.

"Our research shows that consumers are becoming more aware of the nutritional quality of their foods and how that affects their health and well-being,"​ Dan Gunter, director of FDOC had said last month. "This is the foundation for our marketing programs, and we are very optimistic that consumer demand for naturally nutritious foods, such as 100 percent orange juice and grapefruit juice will increase."

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