Not all is Sunshine for Florida Oranges in Fungicide Scare

Bearss Groves
Still packing them in at Bearss Groves
TAMPA (2012-1-12) -

So just what would be the impact of the halting of imported citrus on that morning staple, Florida orange juice? Analysts don't expect any delays in shipments from overseas to impact the supply. But what about possible damage to the image of domestic juice? We visit a Tampa fruit stand to find out.

It's the afternoon rush hour at Bearss Groves, a green patch that has survived for more than a century in the spreading concrete sprawl just north of Tampa.

Brian Arnette and Elizabeth Leggett are filling their canvas tote bags with locally-grown produce and citrus. They try to buy locally, so they have no worries about tainted imported juice.

"I love my orange juice just the same. As long as it's pulp-free, I'm happy about it. That's all I need," says Legette. "I get the from-Florida, anyway," adds Arnette. "If it's from Florida," says Leggett, "that's what we drink."

Just behind the roadside fruit stand is a citrus packing and juicing house, where local fruit is sorted and fresh-squeezed.

Manager Ben Doster thinks this will be a temporary blip in the public consciousness. He says the industry's faced health scares before, but they've always been short-lived.

"I'm not too worried yet," says Doster. "I think it'll come and go. It'll ebb and flow."

Bill Raffety, an analyst at Penson Futures in New York, says "This has caused a tremendous amount of volatility.

Raffety says the scare caused orange juice futures first to soar, then to crash.

"The market moved 20 cents yesterday, which is a huge move," he says. "I mean, a freeze would cause a move like this.”

Orange growers are scared to talk about this as well. We asked several to comment for this story, but all refused, saying they don’t want to create unnecessary panic.

Andrew Meadows, spokesman for the growers association Florida Citrus Mutual, says he’s not surprised.

"You know, it is frustrating for us," says Meadows. "Our regulators, the FDA has determined that this juice is 100 percent safe. It’s business as usual in our industry and we’re still producing a wholesome, healthy product.”

Citrus remains one of Florida’s biggest industries. Meadows says it generated $9 billion in revenues and employed 76,000 people last year. But it’s shrunk in recent years because of external competition and internal problems.

"You know, we’re facing challenges," he says. "We just had a cold patch last week. We’re fighting a disease called citrus greening right now. So you really get a challenging industry when you’re involved in agriculture.

And dealing with scares like this are just one of those challenges.

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