Citrus greening takes a bite out of Florida grapefruit crop

01/31/2014 03:51:00 PM
Chris Koger

Kevin Thomason (left), packinghouse manager of Fort Pierce, Fla.-based DNE World Fruit Sales’ East Coast Packers, and Mark Hanks, vice president of North American sales and marketing, view red grapefruit on the packing line in late January. Citrus greening disease is affecting this year’s grapefruit harvest, grower-shippers report, with smaller sizing cutting packout numbers. FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Florida grapefruit production numbers are showing the effects of citrus greening disease.

Buyers should expect Florida grapefruit prices to remain strong as sizes remain small and packouts fall below expectations, thanks in part to the disease.

At DNE World Fruit Sales, citrus greening, also known huanglongbing or HLB, is producing a lot of fruit that’s too small to pack, said Mark Hanks, vice president of North American sales and marketing.

In late January, DNE was losing 10%-15% of its packouts to greening, he said.

Typically, red grapefruit sees up to 90% packouts, but this year, DNE is packing only 50%-60% because of undersized fruit caused in part by greening, Hanks said.

Some of the fruit is also lighter in weight, he said.

“This season was a slow start in large part due in part to all the small sizes,” Hanks said in late January. “This has been a very challenging season. The problem is the greening has really showed itself.

“The fruit has been late in maturing and overall, the sizing has been small,” Hanks said. “Maybe about 10% of this crop after cleaning the tree is subject to the disease.”

In late January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 4/5-bushel cartons of Florida red grapefruit in Chicago selling for $16-18 for 23s and 27s, $16-17 for 32s, $14-16 for 36s, $14-15 for 40s, $11-12 for 56s.

Hanks said he expects prices to remain strong.

DNE is the sales arm of Bernard Egan & Co.

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