TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The national inflation rate in the United States hit 7%. Last month, top price increases were focused on melons and vegetables. Now, the price hikes have hit closer to home in Florida, with oranges.
Across the grocery list, pork, beef and eggs are finally seeing less pressure from inflation. Pork products like bacon are a little less pricey, and beef is down a solid 2%. Pork chops are seeing their prices start to fall, even as canned ham products and lunch meat have their price tags tick upward.
As of December’s inflation measure, fish and chicken are still more expensive. Consumer wallets are getting hurt the most where they’re buying fresh foods, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
Fruits generally are 7.9% more expensive compared to last year. Vegetables are less pricey, only having risen 2.4% collectively, year-over-year. When it comes to monthly increases, though, citrus is king for price hikes, with a collective 6.5% higher expense at the end of 2021.
While the price increases are still higher in the fresh fruits and vegetables end of the grocery list, the top inflated price was for citrus, especially oranges, where prices were up 8.9% between November and December.
Citrus has been a major economic industry in Florida since before it was a part of the United States, according to the Florida Department of State. Citrus plants were first grown commercially in Florida in the 1500s. In the mid-1870s, FDOS said the citrus industry boomed in the state, causing entrepreneurs to “flock” to Florida to grow citrus. The boom carried on for family-owned groves until 1960, when groves were consolidated and citrus turned from “a family-oriented operation” to a “full-scale agribusiness.”
In modern times, Florida produces a slim majority of U.S. citrus.
Due to the big part oranges play in the state’s economy, Florida named oranges the official state fruit, orange juice as the state beverage, and even orange blossoms as the state flower. Visitors and newcomers to the Sunshine State are offered orange juice at welcome centers and see signs for the popular produce on highways all over the state.
The Sunshine State grew about 51% of domestic oranges in the 2020-2021 season, according to the the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Citrus Forecast. Those oranges are used in everything from orange juice to marmalade, or just for snacking. The nation’s orange crop caps out at 103,950,000 total. Texas and California produce most of the portion that Florida doesn’t cover.
The USDA reported all of Florida’s orange production was down 3%, as of Jan. 12. The decrease in production comes as demand increases, adding to inflationary pressures. That’s what’s pushing up orange prices, in addition to supply chain and distribution issues seen in every industry due to driver shortages and higher fuel costs.
The latest USDA citrus forecast is predicting an even smaller haul of orange boxes for January. December held a reported 46,000,000 boxes of oranges in Florida. January is only expected to have 44,500,000. In the 2020 to 2021 season, USDA reported Florida grew 52,800,000 boxes of oranges, total. The season generally runs from October to July.
Central Florida, Polk, Highlands and Osceola counties, has the second highest volume of orange grove in Florida, with 120,763 acres in 2020. Western Florida, made up of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Hardee and DeSoto counties, is the highest-volume region, with 123,950 acres in 2020. That said, the USDA reported the number of acres for growth across the whole state had shrunk when it came to growing oranges and grapefruits, products that Florida more of than any other state.
The 2021 to 2022 production season will continue through July, but with a continued downward forecast and fewer acres of groves, ongoing inflation makes it unclear what Florida’s growers and consumers should expect.