Orange Juice Futures Fall on Surprising Florida Forecast; Cotton Ends Lower
By Julie Wernau
Orange juice futures reversed course to end lower Thursday after a forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the status of Florida's orange production was better than anticipated.
Frozen concentrated orange juice for November delivery fell 2.3% to end at $1.589 a pound on the ICE Futures Exchange, after trading as high as $1.648 a pound ahead of the report.
The agency forecast 54 million boxes of oranges in Florida in its first estimate of the 2017/2018 season, with between 45% and 48% of fruit dropping from trees following devastating losses from Hurricane Irma. That figure would place orange production in Florida at the lowest since 1947.
Analysts surveyed by the WSJ had anticipated lower production at 50.6 million boxes. The USDA forecast was met with skepticism by the Florida citrus industry.
"We have yet to realize the full extent of Hurricane Irma's impact on the Florida citrus industry and today's forecast reflects that," said Ellis Hunt, a Lake Wales citrus grower and chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission. "I expect we will see this number decrease even further in future crop estimates."
Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida's largest citrus grower organization, had asked the USDA to delay its estimate.
"I'm disappointed the USDA did not delay the traditional October crop estimate until more data could be collected to fully assess the damage wrought by Irma," said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. "Irma hit us just a month ago and, although we respect the skill and professionalism of the USDA, there is no way they can put out a reliable number in that short time period."
On Sept. 10, Hurricane Irma moved through the center of the state to hit Florida's major citrus-producing regions, blowing fruit off trees that have already been devastated by an incurable disease called citrus greening that also causes fruit to drop before it is ripe.
In other markets, cotton for December lost 1.3% to end at 67.84 cents a pound, with the USDA report on cotton supply and demand largely in line with the expectations of analysts, with lower production and slightly lower export projections leaving ending stocks of fiber at 5.8 million bales, compared with 6 million projected last month.
Some analysts had initially anticipated higher losses from Hurricane Harvey's impact on Texas, the largest growing region.
Raw sugar for March was off 0.1% at 14.28 cents a pound, cocoa for December lost 0.3% at $2,090 a ton and arabica coffee for December dropped 0.4% at $1.2635 a pound.
Write to Julie Wernau at [email protected]