Nervous citrus industry faces new woes

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Citrus

A disease that can wipeout citrus crops is adding to the woes of an industry that has seen price hikes and supply shortages over recent years.

Citrus greening disease "has got the industry incredibly nervous"​, according to Dr Russ Rouseff, food science expert at the Citrus Research and Education Center, Florida.

He said greening, which is spread by insects and kills off citrus plants, is in every major citrus producing area of the world, including Florida, and at this point there is no cure or resistant strain of citrus.

It comes as food and beverage manufacturers are seeing the cost of citrus increase - particular lemons which have tripled in price over the last five years.

Meanwhile flavor companies are already introducing new citrus products developed specifically to tackle supply and price issues, offering some cost stability for the future.

According to reports, greening disease has been threatening Florida's $9bln citrus industry for a decade and now it has spread to Louisiana, where the industry was worth $6mln last year.

Rouseff told FoodNavigator.com: "Greening has the full attention of the citrus industry and the State of Florida.

"All the research funding has been redirected towards solving that problem."

He said that the disease is reducing the number of trees that are in production because, as soon as the tree comes down with greening, it is uprooted and burnt.

Lemon oil replacers

Citrus fruits maintain popularity in the increasing wellbeing trend as they are high in antioxidants, having various health benefits. For example, researchers have found they may have a role to play in protection against neurodegenerative diseases.

This week flavor company AM Todd announced two new lemon oil extenders which it developed in response to lemon oil shortages and price increases.

The high cost of citrus, partly due to poor weather such as frosts and hurricanes in prime growing regions, has also led Givaudan to develop lemon oil replacers.

Another factor is increased consumption of fresh lemons in developing markets where consumers now have more disposable income, which results in less lemons available for processing.

This year Givaudan is predicting a 30 per cent shortage in the supply of lemon oil, which is a by-product of processing, which is likely to push up prices still further.

The beverage industry is expected to be hit particularly hard by this, as a large proportion of the world's lemon oil goes into drinks.

Citrus centers

According to Blake Anderson, president of Symrise's North America flavor division, Florida used to be the "epicenter for citrus fruit"​ but it is prone to harsh weather conditions which can seriously damage crops.

Anderson believe companies are now looking at diversifying to ensure a more consistent supply of citrus fruit and attention is turning to Brazil, where Symrise recently opened its Global Citrus Center right next to a major citrus growing area.

The move is said to have secured ease of supply of an important raw material and brought its global expertise on research, sensory effects and technology under one roof.

Similarly in March, Doehler said it had significantly stepped up its capacity for developing citrus-based ingredients and oils with the opening of its new development and production centre at Limeira, Brazil.

And this year Takasago opened a new citrus center in Florida in a bid to increase product quality and innovation.

Fruit prices

The United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service said its Fruit and Tree Nuts outlook published in May said that Florida's orange production is forecast at 7.6 million tons, 31 percent higher than last season. This would be Florida's biggest orange crop since 2003/04.

Grower prices for oranges have also declined, averaging $5.60 per 90-lb box from October to April, down from the average of $7.52 per box for the same period last season. However, prices are still considerably higher than any other season since the early 1990s.

The average price of lemons in the US in 2003/2004 was $12.20 per 76-lb box but in 2007/2008 it is $45.55.

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