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Florida freeze won't affect juice prices - for now

By the time this weekend's chilly Florida weather affects orange juice prices -- if it does at all -- snowbirds already will be getting ready to return home, said analysts and produce buyers.

As of Friday, the damage to the Florida citrus crop from several nights of freezing temperatures was "minimal," said Rusty Wiygul, director of grower affairs for Florida Citrus Mutual and an orange grower himself.

Still, he noted that the forecast called for continued cold nights and wind through the weekend, so a week from now things could be different.

"You would need to see a pretty major freeze to affect price," he said.

Even then, it would be weeks or even months before consumers saw a price increase because of crop damage, experts said.

Sterling Smith, a food commodities analyst at Country Hedging in Minneapolis, noted that citrus futures contracts rose 15 percent to 17 percent on news of the weather but said that meant little for consumers.

"Futures markets are very nervous things," he said. "We still have a glut of orange juice."

Juice and oranges that are in stores now were bought and sold by traders months ago, he said.

Rich Conger, director of produce for the King Kullen supermarket chain, agreed.

He said there has been no sign of price increases from Florida growers. At this time of year, he said, all the chain's citrus comes from Florida or California. If there's a bad cold snap in Florida, prices might go up quicker, but in many cases it could take weeks, he said.

"Every scenario is different," he added.

Florida grows the most grapefruit in the world, and only Brazil grows more oranges. The state eased trucking rules earlier this week to allow growers to harvest and ship some oranges early to processing plants.

Wiygul said growers are taking steps to protect fruit still in the trees, such as spraying them with water. The ice that forms insulates the fruit from the cold air.

Wind would complicate that effort, he said.

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