Why is there an orange juice shortage?

Orange juice is a breakfast staple for many people. But recently there’s been less of it on grocery store shelves. So what’s causing the orange juice shortage?


Orange juice sales have declined over the past decade as health trends have pushed consumers towards less sugary and more natural juices. But the recent shortage of orange juice has more to do with supply than demand. A combination of citrus greening disease, poor weather, and labor shortages have reduced orange crops in Florida, where the majority of oranges for juice are grown. This perfect storm of factors has led to the lowest orange yields since WWII and the highest orange juice prices in years.

What is Citrus Greening Disease?

Citrus greening, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), is a devastating bacterial disease that is spread by an invasive insect called the Asian citrus psyllid. The disease causes the oranges to become misshapen and overly bitter. There is no cure for citrus greening, so infected trees stop producing fruit and eventually die.

Citrus greening was first detected in Florida in 2005. Since then, it has spread to all of the state’s citrus producing regions. Over 90% of Florida’s orange acres are now infected with HLB. Diseased trees produce smaller, poor quality fruit that isn’t suitable for juicing. This table shows the impact of citrus greening on Florida’s orange production over the past 15 years:

Crop Year Oranges Produced (Boxes)
2003-04 242 million
2008-09 140 million
2013-14 104 million
2017-18 45 million

As you can see, orange production in Florida has decreased dramatically since HLB arrived. Without a cure, citrus greening will continue to limit orange supply and lead to higher orange juice prices.

Bad Weather Compounds the Problem

On top of citrus greening, Florida orange growers have also battled bad weather in recent years. The Sunshine State saw its first hurricane in over a decade when Hurricane Irma made landfall in 2017. The powerful Category 4 storm devastated citrus groves across Florida.

While Florida’s orange trees can withstand hurricane winds, flooding from heavy rains can suffocate roots and promote the spread of diseases like citrus greening. Initial estimates said Hurricane Irma destroyed nearly 70% of Florida’s orange crop. Later assessments put the loss closer to 20-30%. Still, this was a major blow that growers are still recovering from today.

Other challenges like winter freezes and excessive heat have also impacted Florida’s citrus output. Ideal growing temperatures for oranges are between 65-95°F. Sustained cold snaps or heat waves disrupt growth and cause fruit drop. Climate variability is becoming more common, much to the detriment of orange trees.

Labor Shortages Reduce Harvesting

To make matters worse, there’s also a shortage of pickers to harvest the oranges that manage to grow. The labor-intensive task is largely done by hand, requiring workers to walk through groves filling bags with fresh fruit.

In recent years, fewer migrant workers from Mexico and Central America have been crossing the border into the U.S. Increased border security and depressed job prospects from COVID have stemmed the flow of immigrant labor. Current employees are also aging out of the physically demanding work.

These tight labor conditions mean more oranges end up rotting on the tree before they can be picked. One grower said his crews were able to harvest just 30% of his Valencia oranges last season due to insufficient labor. This table shows the declining number of worker hours spent picking oranges in Florida:

Season Worker Hours
2013-14 25 million
2018-19 21 million
2020-21 16 million

Until worker shortages can be addressed, labor will remain another limitation on Florida’s orange yields.

How Long Will the Orange Juice Shortage Last?

Industry groups remain hopeful that orange production will rebound in coming years. The USDA has dedicated millions of dollars to researching HLB and efforts are underway to plant new high-density citrus groves. These tightly spaced plantings use smaller trees that develop fruit earlier.

Weather disruptions are likely to continue, however, as climate change brings about extremes. And finding labor could get even tougher as Hispanic population growth slows. Even if Florida oranges make a comeback, it may not be enough to satisfy America’s thirst for orange juice.

Total U.S. orange juice demand is over 1 billion gallons per year. At its peak, Florida produced over 200 million boxes of oranges. That’s been cut down to around 50 million boxes today. Florida growers now fill less than 40% of national orange juice demand. The rest is imported from Brazil, Mexico, and the European Union.

Importing juice adds to transportation costs at a time when fuel prices are already high. Bottled orange juice typically costs about $4 per gallon – almost twice as much as a gallon of gas. Prices will likely stay elevated as long as oranges are in short supply.

Alternatives to Orange Juice

With orange juice harder to find and more expensive, some consumers are switching to other citrus juices. Grapefruit, lemon, lime, and tangerine juices are becoming more popular choices. These alternative juices tend to use domestic fruits so they avoid international supply chain issues.

Not From Concentrate (NFC) orange juice retains more flavor but is generally pasteurized using heat. This heating process destroys some nutrients. Fresh-squeezed style juices often use cold-pressing to preserve nutritional content. However, these cold-pressed juices must be consumed within a week or two before spoiling.

Bottled orange juice will last much longer due to pasteurization and added preservatives. But some consumers are shifting away from traditional juices because of the processing. Making your own juice at home can provide maximum nutrition and flavor. Home juicing also produces less packaging waste compared to store-bought juices.

Outlook for Orange Juice Prices

Orange juice prices will likely stay high in the near term as Florida groves continue struggling. However, analysts don’t expect prices to rise indefinitely. Demand elasticity will kick in at a certain point as pricier OJ encourages substitution. Consumers do have some discretionary income to absorb higher prices, but there’s a limit.

Other factors could also help bring prices down again. If Brazil is able to increase exports, that additional supply could alleviate pressure. Research advances to tackle citrus greening may also boost Florida’s production capacity. But any remedies will take years to implement, so no immediate relief is expected.

In the meantime, orange juice will remain a relatively expensive drink. Retail OJ prices are up over 20% in the last year. Shoppers can expect to keep paying around $4-5 per gallon. Budget-conscious consumers may cut back on OJ or switch to lower-cost juices. But hardcore orange juice lovers will grin and bear the higher prices.


Orange juice shortages stem from a combination of disease, weather, and labor issues impacting Florida citrus groves. With the state producing less than half of America’s orange juice, supply is struggling to keep up with demand. Prices have risen in response and will likely stay elevated in the short term. Health-conscious consumers may look to alternative juices or home juicing for now. But orange juice remains iconic, so the market impact has limits. With luck and research, Florida’s orange output will eventually rebound. But until then, orange juice will be more of a luxury than a staple for many households.

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