Brazil sends navel armada of orange juice, helping frosty Florida

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

It's likely that the orange juice you drink later this year will say ''oranges grown in Brazil'' on the carton. The reason: a late December frost that destroyed at least one-third of Florida's huge orange crop and sent United States juice producers scrambling for alternate sources to fill the gap.

Brazil was the obvious source. It already supplies the US market with 10 percent of its orange juice needs. And, as the world's second-largest producer of orange juice concentrate after the US, its orange growers should be able to make up about half of the 165,000 metric ton shortfall in this year's Florida crop.

With different growing seasons, the Brazilians could also wind up with an even larger share of the US market.

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By year's end, Brazil may be supplying close to 50 percent of the orange juice North Americans drink, according to the Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents most of Florida's 18,000 growers - traditionally the major suppliers of the US market.

Florida growers don't seem too worried about so much Brazilian orange juice flowing into the US. They think it is only temporary and that they will get back their market share once their production returns to normal. Moreover, they think the flow of Brazilian juice will keep orange juice consumption at its current level.

But this shift from Florida to Brazilian orange groves, even though likely to be only temporary, means you are going to pay more for your juice.

US prices after the frost have already jumped 15 percent - and now Brazil, sensing opportunity, has jacked up prices as well. In addition, shipping and other costs could push prices up by 30 percent or more by year's end.

For dollar-hungry Brazil, the Florida frost has come as an unexpected windfall. Brazilian trade officials, citrus exporters, and Banco do Brasil's foreign trade specialists forecast at least a 50 percent jump in earnings during 1984. Orange juice sales won't solve Brazil's $90 billion debt crunch, but juice exports will ease it a bit. Orange juice exports should net Brazil $800 million this year.

Hans George Krauss, president of the Brazilian Association of Citrus Juice Industries, estimates sales in the US will soar from 130,000 tons last year to more than 250,000 tons this year.

There's also jubilation in the orange groves northwest of Sao Paulo where the bulk of Brazil's oranges are grown. And for the orange growers themselves, it is all a rather heady experience. Saddled with heavy mortgages and other debts, they suddenly have money to pay off these loans. Many are buying consumer items they have done without. Some are putting in new seedlings.

Moreover, land prices in the orange-growing regions have soared. One newspaper, Rio de Janeiro's O Globo, said an ''orange-juice gold rush'' is under way.

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