Citrus grower prices in January and February 2005 were above any January and February since 1990.

The higher prices for citrus fruit, due to intermittent supply shortages of fresh oranges and reduced crops of grapefruit, processing oranges, and tangerines, drove prices above previous years, according to USDA. Retail prices for grapefruit were four times higher this January than last January.

In March, the 2004/05 U.S. citrus crop was forecast at 11.6 million tons, 29 percent below last season and 23 percent below 2002/03. While the total orange crop is smaller, California's orange production, which produces the bulk of the fresh oranges, is forecast to reach 2.4 million tons, 23 percent higher than last season, and the biggest crop since 1999/2000.

Grower prices for fresh oranges have been averaging above last season due to intermittent rains hampering harvesting.

The damaging 2004 hurricane season lowered citrus production in Florida. Its orange production is forecast at 6.9 million tons, the smallest crop since 1991/92. Despite the smaller crop this season, monthly grower prices for processing oranges through February have been lower than any season for the past 4 years. Weak demand and lagging fruit maturity at the beginning of the season contributed to the lower prices.

Lemon outlook

This season's lemon crop is forecast at 832,000 tons, 4 percent higher than last season, with a bigger crop in California, but smaller in Arizona. The smaller quantity of lemons produced in Arizona this season reduced the quantity available this August and September and drove grower prices above last season.

Tangerine production is forecast to total 340,000 tons in 2004/05, 22 percent below 2003/04. The Florida crop, which accounts for 63 percent of the total, is expected to be 31 percent lower. California's tangerine crop is forecast to total 109,000 tons, 9 percent above last season.

Tangerine production has been increasing over the past few years in California, as growers are planting more acreage to clementine and murcott tangerine varieties.

The grower price index (1990-92=100) for January and February 2005 is above any January and February since the index began in 1990. The higher prices for citrus fruit this January and February, due to intermittent supply shortages of fresh oranges and reduced crops of grapefruit, processing oranges, and tangerines, drove the index above previous years.

The January index at 104 was 3 percent higher than December due to higher orange prices offsetting price declines for grapefruit, lemons, and apples. Despite a big, good quality crop out of California, grower prices this January for fresh oranges have been the highest since 2002.

Heavy rains throughout harvesting this season have made it difficult for labor to get into the fields and harvest the fruit, creating periodic supply shortages, and driving up prices.

The February index rose to 122, 17 percent above January. Orange prices continued higher in February but fell for the other major fruit crops in the market, including grapefruit, lemons, tangerines, apples, and strawberries.