Florida citrus growers reported ice damage to their orange fruit and groves Wednesday after overnight temperatures dropped to bone-chilling lows in parts of the state's citrus belt.
"There was definitely some damage," said Ray Royce, executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association in central Florida.
"We did have some areas that had damage last night," Royce said, "It's too early to tell whether or not we'll have significant fruit drop but certainly we're going to have juice loss within some fruit in some areas."
Despite the reports of some damage, juice futures saw follow-through liquidation given the lack of definite news and the fact that the freeze may not be as bad as initially thought, traders said.
The key January FCOJ contract was down 3.40 cents at $1.5665 per lb at 11:00 a.m. EST.
Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for the state's leading growers association, Florida Citrus Mutual, said scattered reports of fruit damage were coming in from many areas but it was too early to gauge the overall impact on the $9 billion industry.
"In terms of twig and tree damage we are still assessing that, whether or not there will be any long-term effects," Meadows said.
Overnight temperatures fell well below freezing in Highlands, the second-largest citrus producing county in the Sunshine State, which yields more than 75 percent of the U.S. orange crop and accounts for about 40 percent of the world's orange juice supply.
Typically, citrus can be damaged by four hours or more of temperatures below 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and Royce said that was exactly what happened Tuesday night and well into Wednesday morning.
"I don't think it's to the level of being catastrophic tree killing cold anywhere, but we certainly are going to see some damage coming out of last night," he said.
"It is not fruit frozen in every single grove. it is not small twig damage everywhere, but there's definitely some blocks that are going to have damaged fruit," Royce added.
On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the worst damage possible from a cold snap, Royce said what happened after the sun set on the citrus belt Tuesday night was probably a "7."
"Perhaps even some buds for next year were frozen," he told Reuters.
Florida's citrus production is key to recent volatility in orange juice futures trading, especially after the U.S. Agriculture Department recently pegged the state's output at 143 million boxes, from 146 million in October.
Those figures could be revised downwards in the USDA's next production forecast, do to this week's blasts of arctic air, Meadows said.
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