The Florida Citrus Commission today announced it was putting a 10-day embargo on all shipments of fresh citrus fruits out of the state to protect consumers against getting any oranges and grapefruits that were damaged by the recent 3-day freeze.
The embargo is effective 12:01 a.m. Monday and not immediately because, according to a spokesman, there already is fruit in transport channels which was picked prior to the freeze and which is therefore undamaged.
After the embargo ends there will be a second period of 14 days during which shipments out of the state will be closely monitored for defects. The decision was announced after a meeting of Florida agricultural and weather officials.
Today's prices of orange juice concentrate futures rose the allowable 3-cent daily limit for the fifth consecutive day in trading on the New York Cotton Exchange. The March expiration contract closed at 54.4 cents per pound of concentrate, up from 37.5 cents only a week ago.
Temperatures in Florida's central and northern regions where most of the state's citrus fruits are grown were close to 50 today and only dropped down to 38 degrees last night after plummeting into the teens on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Growers were trying to pick freeze-damaged oranges as quickly as possible so they could be transported to processors wher they are still usable for concentrate, and there was hope that the weather would stay cool for another few days so that the damaged oranges could be picked before they begin to rot.
"If the weather gets warm fast, that's when we're going o have problems," said W. Arthur Darling, a spokesman for the Florida Citrus Commission in Lakeland.
Estimates on losses from the freeze range from 20 to 40 per cent of the crop, but Darling said it would take two to three weeks to fully assess the extent of the damage. He said damage to the trees will not be much impact on next year's crop.
The embargo, which affects only fresh citrus fruits, is not going to mean a disappearance of oranges and grapefruits from grocery produce sections because both California and Arizona are also substantial producers of fresh citrus fruits, though Florida accounts for more than 90 per cent of the oranges that go into juice and concentrate.
Meanwhile, United Press International reported that Texas citrus growers, burdened by oversupply and 70 days of rain that ruined the Christmas selling season, emptied their storage shelves at Florida's expense.
It was the first huge demand for their crop since this year's harvest began. A cold snap that froze Florida fruit on the tree brought a 25 per cent increase in price for Texas fruit Thursday and another quarter increase seemed imminent.
Valley agricultural specialist Charlie Rankin said, "It's already upped the prices because of increased supplier demand.
"We ship 60,000 cartons out of here a day," he said. "With the new demand, we'll increase now to approximately 80,000 cartons per day."
Rankin said he had no doubt the prices would go up another quarter-"maybe four bits."
"We were at rock-bottom prices, we had a bumper crop of grapefruit and oranges," he said. "Now demand exceeds supply for the first time since we began harvesting."
He said his prediction was "just a stab in the dark, a wild guess. It could go up 75 per cents per carton."
He said the average price paid for the 1975 crop was $2.54 per carton, and this year's weighted average had reached $3.36 before the increased demand.
"Yesterday we had some $5 cartons," he said.