The orange Ocitrus sinensis is the most commonly grown tree fruit in the world. In 2008, the world-wide orange crop was 66.5 million tons. The orange tree in its natural state grows only "bitter" oranges, but hybridization was able to produce the "sweet" orange, which is the orange fruit we know today.
on the cultivation and history of oranges
The word "orange" itself is unusual, it it said that nothing rhymes with orange. The original word ultimately came, (via French and Italian) from Persian narang, which seems to have acquired the word from Sanskrit naranga-s ("orange tree"), with the initial n being lost due to confusion with the terminal n in both English (an orange) and earlier French (une narange) and Italian (una narancia) forms.
In other languages, the orange is named after the country of Portugal, whose navigators first brought the sweet orange to Europe:
... Bulgarian portokal портокал, Greek portokali πορτοκάλι, Persian portaghal پرتقال, Albanian portokall, Macedonian portokal портокал, and Romanian portocală. In Italian the word portogallo to refer to the orange fruit is dialectal. It means literally "Portugal". ... Turkish portakal, Arabic al-burtuqal البرتقال, Amharic birtukan, and Georgian p'ort'oxali ფორთოხალი.And in still other languages the fruit is called a "china apple".
That the fruit has no real native name in any language after Sanscrit shows the historically international nature of its cultivation, a status which continues to this day. Its international nature leads to the heavy involvement of governments to support their growers, as well as calls to boycott oranges produced by this or that nation, for example, Israel.
And it was oranges that the Joad family left Oklahoma to pick in the great John Steinbeck novel (and John Ford film), The Grapes of Wrath. Powerful as the movie is, the novel is much more so, particularly when describing the dumping of food to maintain its price:
The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is a failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.More below the orange squiggle of doom.
In the harvest year 2010-2011, the global orange harvest was 53.481 million metric tons (MMT). (source). There were five major orange producing nations / economic units: Brazil (20.645 MMT), United States (8.035 MMT), China (5.900 MMT), EU-27 (6.190 MMT), and Mexico (4.100 MMT). The rest of the world accounted for 8.611 MMT, and includes countries such as Spain, Italy (southern), Greece, Israel, and Iran. The production in southern hemisphere countries such as Australia and South Africa can take advantage of the reversed growing seasons in furnishing supplies to the northern hemisphere.
U.S. orange producers benefit from the numerous studies conducted by the USDA of foreign orange production. For example, curious about how your Morocco competitors in the orange business are doing? USDA has a report for you (.PDF), where you can learn that Morocco is producing over 900 MMT of oranges, but water shortages and heat waves are impeding production in critical areas. Export procedures, local subsidies, trade negotiations, and all sort of other details about the orange business are discussed.
It's been reported that as of 2010, Mexican producers had not yet been able to use NAFTA to gain access to the North American market. (source.) China's large production, as well as that of India, another large producer, are primarily consumed domestically. Costa Rica and Belize are the only orange producers with duty-free access to the US market.
Commons) In regions of water scarcity, the heavy water use
required for orange cultivation competes with other demands
According to the University of Arizona, mature citrus trees need about 17 gallons of water per day in the winter and 135 gallons per day in the summer. (source .PDF). This sort of water demand places a huge burden on the available fresh water supplied in the semi-arid regions where citrus grows best.
For example, controversy has recently arisen in Australia over water allocation to citrus groves in the Murray-Darling Basin, the principal agricultural region of the continent. (source .PDF). Put another way, it takes 45 gallons of water to make one glass of orange juice, the same amount it takes to produce a single gallon of crude oil.
And in a 2003 report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization wrote about Israel: ""[Orange] production in Israel will continue to be affected by population growth that will compete with citrus and agricultural crops for land and water."
Stateside citrus production
Within the US, California (27.5%) and Florida (68.7%) are the dominant citrus producing states, with oranges forming the bulk of these crops. (source).One fact of critical importance is that citrus fruit, once picked, does not ripen any further. While there are some mechanical harvesters for oranges (mainly of the tree shaking variety), 96% of the crop, at least in Florida, is picked by hand. And this is really hard work, which requires ready determination of when a fruit is ripe, as well as the physical strength and sufficient endurance to work long hours in all types of weather. In 2011, the pay for this type of work in Florida was $9.50 per hour. (source.)
Within the U.S., Florida produces the most citrus, and the $9.3 billion industry (the state's second largest behind tourism) creates 80,000 FTE jobs and about 1.5% of the state's wage income. About 95% of the harvest is picked by hand, by "transient" laborers from Mexico and Haiti. (source. 90% of the Florida orange harvest is processed into frozen concentrated orange juice ("FCOJ"), whereas California oranges, considered easier to peel, and more attractive, are more commonly destined for fresh sale. But it is the ability to freeze the product into a blended quality-controlled juice concentrate form, developed after WW2, that forms the backbone of the Florida industry.
Dependence on undocumented workers
It's quite likely that most of the labor harvesting Florida's citrus crop are undocument immigrant workers -- "illegal aliens" in the crass words of the right wing. It's a crime for an employer to knowingly hire an undocumented worker -- this law is systematically flouted by the growers and, at least with regard to the citrus industry, for years has been enforced only very sparingly by administrations, both Democratic and Republican.
image of the orange harvest. (Note the young
gentry in the brand new Jeep visiting
the workers in the lower right)
Our friends over at FAIR have identified the problem correctly (although they err in the solution) (source):
No job is inherently an “immigrant job” — instead, employers make a conscious decision about what type of workers to use and the pay and conditions they offer. California’s lemon industry made such exclusive use of Mexican migration networks and discriminatory hiring practices that it became nearly impossible for non-Hispanics toFAIR makes a critical error however, and that is to identify the task of commercial fruit harvesting as "unskilled". This is a product of the false idea that agricultural work is somehow less worthy than industrial labor, and it is not just conservatives who are responsible for this misnomer. In fact, the use of undocumented immigrant labor in highly demanding tasks, such as fruit harvesting, allows an enormous saving of labor cost.
gain employment. The same was true of janitorial services in Los Angeles. The meatpacking industry, which once paid middle class wages, has shifted to a low-wage rural factory model that makes heavy use of illegal workers. Meat producers have engaged in elaborate hiring schemes to bring thousands of illegal workers onto their payrolls, as have restaurants, hotels, construction companies, and producers in many other industries. The competitive advantage gained by the law-breaker puts immense pressure on other producers to cut wages in order to stay competitive ... .
About a year ago from Huffpo (6/04/11), came a report of a Republican plan to extend the E-verify system to agricultural workers, causing the usual howls among growers, as well as these remarks from Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers:
... migrant farm workers are exposed to blistering heat with little or no shade and few water breaks. It's skilled work, he said, requiring produce pickers to be exact and quick. While the best mushroom pickers can earn about $35,000 to $40,000 a year for piece work, there's little chance for a good living and American workers don't seem interested in farm jobs.Conclusion
"It is extremely difficult, hard, dangerous work," Rodriguez said.
Last year Rodriguez's group started the "Take Our Jobs" campaign to entice American workers to take the fields. He said of about 86,000 inquiries the group got about the offer, only 11 workers took jobs.
Citrus production is a huge burden on the water resources of a growing region. And many of the countries where citrus production is occurring are themselves suffering from endemic water shortages associated with a growing population, for example Morocco and India. Here in America our citrus growers remain competitive but only by widespread unlawful flouting of immigration laws.
Meanwhile, we pretend that agricultural jobs which generate our nation's food supply, are unskilled and therefore unimportant -- as if food was not important. The solution is not to try to deport huge numbers of people, as the racist politicians of Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia would have us do.
The solution rather is to pay agricultural workers what their work is worth -- if you did that, there would be no undocumented immigrant workers. Here is a farmer, Benjamin Shute, writing in the NYT last year:
If our lawmakers decide that American farmers should hire only American workers, then we as a country have a lot more work to do than just enforcing rules against illegal labor. We need to set a national priority to encourage a new generation of young farmers, and we must adjust our system of agriculture to make farms into places where Americans want to work.