Harsh weather impacts citrus industry

The Sunshine State isn’t living up to its name.

Though variable weather is customary for most farmers, southern citrus growers are feeling the effects of Mother Nature’s cold winter.

"This is peak harvest season for many Florida crops, so damage at this time could have significant consequences stretching far outside Florida's borders," said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.

Cold weather actually helps sweeten citrus, but temperatures below 28 degrees can be damaging. As temperatures plummet throughout the state, farmers resorted to spraying their citrus with water to create a shield layer of ice for insulation.

According to Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows, the citrus industry has a $9 billion annual economic impact, so a limited citrus harvest could potentially threaten consumers’ and growers’ pocketbooks.

Fortunately, consumers don’t have to worry about the cost of citrus and/or citrus products (juices) increasing, according to a recent CNN article. Bob Norberg, deputy executive director at the Florida Department of Citrus, said that at least 20 percent of the state’s crop would have to be damaged to impact retail prices of citrus goods.

Like other crops, citrus can be sold at contract/futures pricing to safeguard against unreliable markets, so even if prices change, it won’t be reflected until later this year. Economists are not predicting a large increase at this time.

To ease the already stressful harvest conditions, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency that permitted him to issue a temporary hold on weight, height, length and width limits on trucks transporting crops.

Citrus Facts (Wikipedia)
  • The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is responsible for creating the seed of the majority of citrus grown in the U.S. – developing higher yielding, increased disease resistance, better color and longer shelf life varieties.
  • Florida is the nation’s top citrus producer (more than 75 percent of total U.S. yield).
  • Brazil is the world’s top citrus producer.
  • More than 90 percent of all Florida oranges are squeezed into orange juice.

In the coming days, citrus producers will frantically tend to their groves. Similar to the plight of our nation’s corn growers this past fall (harvested a record corn crop with extended heavy rainfall), farmers will do their best to save as much of the citrus harvest as possible while in the face of challenging conditions.

Let’s hope they are as successful.

Have you noticed a difference in the cost of citrus at your local grocery store or food market? Do you believe the government is doing all that it can to aid the country’s citrus growers? Will demand for other fruits increase if citrus supply is affected?

Farmers Donate During Holiday Season

During the holidays, we’re reminded that it’s better to give than to receive – a principle that is recognized by thousands of farmers nationwide.

Opportunities abound for farmers to donate portions of their harvest to food-donation programs throughout the year, but are especially welcome during times of economic difficulty. It’s also important in November, December and January when people celebrate major holidays with food, food and more food.

Tax incentives can sway farmers to be more generous with their harvest. The Good Samaritan Hunger Relief Tax Incentive Extension Act of 1996 states that only farmers and ranchers using the accrual method of accounting may benefit from incentives for charitable donations of food.

In June, Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind. reintroduced the act to Congress with a proposal that would allow farmers to receive tax deductions on the full market value for produce that cannot or will not be sold.

“It has been my experience that farmers generally make the donation of food out of their desire to support their communities and the less fortunate, and any enhanced deduction was not the primary motivation of such a contribution," Lugar said. "The legislation does make it easier for farmers to take such an enhanced deduction and will result in increased donations of food should the bill pass."

Many national and state food-donation programs exist throughout the country to help distribute food to needy Americans.

The Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Program, in conjunction with Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief charity, created the “Harvest for All” campaign in 2003. This nationally recognized campaign includes activities organized by state and county Farm Bureaus in connection with local Feeding America affiliates across the country. Since its inception, it has provided more than 16 million pounds of food.

U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y. is another proponent of extending and increasing the scope of the original act.

“During these difficult economic times, this tax incentive would be a win-win for our farmers and for those who are struggling to find food to eat,” said Bishop. “Rather than letting excess produce go to waste, farmers can support local charities.”

For example, the 2009 harvest is one of the largest in history for corn and soybeans. As another outlet for their crops, in addition to selling or storage, farmers can consider selling grain in the name of a church or an organization. These entities then use the proceeds to purchase food items.

Donation is a win-win for farmers and producers. Not only honorable, food donations are also economically smart for members of the agriculture industry. With so many local, regional and national opportunities to choose from, farmers would be wise to consider donations now and in the future.

What provisions should be included in the act? How can ag members create awareness about the importance of tax incentives for food donations?

Survey reveals consumer thoughts about U.S. food system

Sustainability is a hot topic in agriculture lately, as consumers are bombarded with messaging about the price, safety and availability of food.

As food and agriculture coincide, sustainable agriculture is a movement interlocking the success of three concepts: farm profits, farm communities and eco-friendly farming practices.

The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) recently released results from its 2009 Consumer Trust Survey about sustainability. CFI is a nonprofit organization that promotes dialogue, advocates best practices, addresses consumer issues and serves as a resource for accurate, balanced information about the U.S. food system.

CFI member organizations represent each segment of the food chain, including farmers, ranchers, processors, government and companies that deliver food products under local, regional and global brand names.

The purpose of the survey was to better understand consumers’ decision-making processes in regard to food purchasing, since most consumers are largely uninformed, and to help build confidence in the American food system.

Survey respondents were asked a series of questions regarding their beliefs about the following stakeholders of the food system: farmers, restaurants, grocery stores and food companies.

Survey Highlights
  • Consumers hold farmers most accountable for sustainability in the food system.
  • Consumers hold restaurants least accountable for sustainability in the food system.
  • Men are more trusting of the information that was presented than women.
  • Consumers are willing to be educated about the food system.
  • Consumers trust food more if it is made in the U.S.
  • Food prices are not as great a concern for consumers as they were one year ago.
  • Consumers do not consider organic food as healthy as they did two years ago.
  • Consumers perceive farmers as most competent among industry groups and therefore, place the most trust and responsibility in them.

A Webinar presented by CFI about the survey, including survey questions, can be accessed at:


As the results indicate, consumers’ trust in and expectations of farmers are great responsibilities to bear. Farmers are charged with creating and supplying an affordable, dependable food supply that meets sustainability standards.

Interestingly, respondents also believe that having shared values and ethics among industry members is more important than the groups truly demonstrating sustainability competence.

What conclusions do you draw from the survey results? What kinds of questions should the next survey include? How can farmers and other members of the food industry demonstrate their commitment to sustainability? Do farmers deserve more recognition for their role in the industry?