The orange economy: Prices shoot up in hurricane season

Ripe oranges hang on the trees.

Mark Wheeler, whose family has grown citrus in Florida for generations, stands next to a Valencia orange tree on a grove he owns in Dundee. During the housing boom, when land prices were sky-high, Wheeler sold off two groves to developers.

Orange juice prices rose to a 13-month high earlier this week.

The reason? “We believe that may be some of the excitement with the naming of tropical depression Barbara,” says Mark Wheeler, a third-generation orange grower and CFO of Wheeler Farms in Lake Placid, Fla.

It’s hurricane season and orange prices do tend to go up arou,d this time, but Wheeler says there’s something else driving the increase -- there are speculators in the market.

“It’s tough sometimes, when you’re trying, as a grower, to identify what’s going on” he says. “Because sometimes the futures will actually act contrary to what we see in the marketplace.”

All that makes planning difficult.

He says “we’ve learned a few painful lessons over the years that we can’t rely on it exclusively because the futures market is one of those things, once you think you’ve got it figured out, that’s when it’s going to pinch us.”

Wheeler says in the short term,“everybody gets excited when the fruit check comes in and it’s a little bit better than the one you had last year.”

But he’s not exactly celebrating high orange prices. “Once that consumer’s scared away, it takes a lot to get them back.”

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

Mark Wheeler, whose family has grown citrus in Florida for generations, stands next to a Valencia orange tree on a grove he owns in Dundee. During the housing boom, when land prices were sky-high, Wheeler sold off two groves to developers.

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