Hurricane Irma puts Florida orange juice industry in peril

Orange juice futures are skyrocketing as citrus growers prepare for the worst from Hurricane Irma’s category 4 winds which can rip off fruit and damage citrus trees.

One of Florida’s top growers is desperately trying to protect 20,000 acres of his orange juice, grapefruits and hundreds of jobs.

In an interview with FOX Business’ Liz Claman of ‘Countdown to the Closing Bell’, Premier Citrus president Tom Jerkins said he is expecting Irma to hit the central part of the state.

“Probably 80% of the industry will be impacted by a category 3. I say at least you are going to lose 50% of this year’s crop and maybe this is the tougher one, 20% of the trees,” he said.

Orange juice futures spiked 12 percent this week as traders anticipate the storm’s threat to the sunshine state’s most precious crop, pushing prices higher for consumers.

But, will a price increase help growers offset some of the expected losses from the storm?

“We’ve been so horrifically weakened by greening disease that are yields are so far down, our cost are up that it really isn’t helping us financially at all and what it does do, it shuts the market down. Consumers only pay so much for orange juice,” Jerkins said.

The citrus industry accounts for 45,000 jobs and contributes $8.6 billion yearly to Florida’s economy.

Jerkins said Hurricane Irma is hitting an industry that has already been on their knees.

“This isn’t bad, but it’s off a horrific cycle of declining tree counts and fruit counts due to green disease we’ve had four or five years. We’ve been losing 15% a year for five years,” he said.