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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.

      A classic illustration from an 1872 book
        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.[39] 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.

Packing oranges at a co-op orange packing plant, Redlands, Calif. Santa Fe R.R. trip (LOC)
      Packing oranges, March 1943, Redlands, CA (FSA).
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.

      Oranges harvested at Kufr Jammal, Palestine, 2006 (Wiki
      Commons) In regions of water scarcity, the heavy water use
      required for orange cultivation competes with other demands
      for water.

Water use.
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.

Orange Groves
      Postcard from 1960s captures the classic popular
      image of the orange harvest.  (Note the young
       gentry in the brand new Jeep visiting
       the workers in the lower right)

More than 3/4s of the US hired farm workforce is foreign born.  (source .PDF), with the strong likelihood that they are undocumented.  (There is a government-sanctioned guest worker program called H-2A which most growers find too expensive and cumbersome to use.) Yet, in 2008, it was reported that 2/3rds of Florida's voters wanted tougher action against undocumented immigrants.

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 to
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 ... .
FAIR 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.  

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.

"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.

Originally posted to Plan 9 from Oregon on Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 08:14 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.


Do you think that agricultural work, such as picking oranges, should be classified and paid as, skilled labor?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 08:14:20 AM PDT

  •  Excellent diary. Here's the REAL story (4+ / 0-)

    (thanks PBS):

    "Now go out there and make me do it!" - Franklin Roosevelt

    by brae70 on Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 09:10:41 AM PDT

  •  I live in suburban Orlando in Polk (4+ / 0-)

    County. There are orange groves two blocks from my house. My kids high school was across the street from orange groves.Oranges were not grown in Florida until the railroad came in in the 1870s. Before that much of Florida was about cattle ranching. And there is still a lot of ranching going on today. But if it were not for the migrant pickers there would be no economy in Polk County or much of Florida.

    Do not drive past an orange juice processing plant or it will put you off orange juice for a long time. Oranges are oily and have an oily smell. At least the ones grown here do. And the orange juice plant south on Rte 27 south of Winter Haven smells like an industrial district on the south side of Chicago in the 1970s. I know this from personal experience.

    The migrant workers are the hardest working people I have ever seen. And their children are incredibly hard working and talented. I know because my kid went to high school with many of them. Many of these kids were in gifted programs in middle school and took AP and IB courses in high school. Some school districts in Florida, like the one in Polk County make accommodation for the kids of migrant workers. It is a travesty of justice and just plain stupid not to extend citizenship to these fine people. They and their children are a credit to humanity and if you saw their living conditions you would weep. Instead of harassing these fine folks we should be helping them with health care, social security, and educational opportunities like scholarships and free tuition.

    We have a scholarship program down here called Bright Futures. It is funded by the state lottery and helps talented students with financial aid for either a four year university or two year community college. Last year the state made it mandatory that all applicants for Bright Futures must fill out a FAFSA. Well if you or your parents do not have a social security number than you are out of luck. This makes it much harder for the children of migrant farmers to go to college or learn a trade. Thank you very much Governor Voldemort.

  •  Well done and well told. focusing on a very (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mike Kahlow, Cartoon Peril, wbr, ladybug53

    Specific area of our economy and daily life helps us see what is going on. Many of these practices have developed over several generations, so solutions will be multi faceted and nuanced.

    Much of what you have written could apply to NW pear production. I have gringa friends who worked over 20 years in pear packing houses, but the pressure to work faster, longer and for less pay or be replaced by Mexican workers has finally forced an almost complete change in the workforce.

    The early days of fruit packers were largely made up of farm wives bringing in extra income.

    As we have learned to our dismay the growing of mostly mono culture pear varieties has led to intense use of agricultural sprays: pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics (for Fire Blight).

    I recently became very ill with an over reactive immune system, which made me allergic to everything I ingested.  While I was unintentionally fasting, fat stored chemicals were released into the bloodstream. I was blood and urine tested and found positive for Atrizine (an Orgno phosphate) and DDE (much like DDT, an organo chlorine which does not break down in the environment).

    Since our entire pear production uses these chemicals over thousands of acres, there is no proof that my results can reflect usage by a point source such as my immediate neighbor who uses more than most.

    State statutes enjoin suites against farmers for "standard farm practice" and with many family as well as a few corporate farmers using these substances there is no sure way to prove a singe user as the culprit. Thousands of people a substantial number of which are kids, are exposed year around and would no doubt test positive as well.

    As pointed out in " Sacred Economies" clean air, water and food used to be in the Commonwealth, for all of us. But now it has been corporatized and made toxic and unavailable to us.

    Thank you again.

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 12:42:47 PM PDT

  •  Very similar to pears. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril, ladybug53

    From the Pear PR 80% of pears grown in the US are from Washington and Oregon

    Moisture from meandering rivers and glacial snowmelt feeds the region’s nutrient-rich volcanic soil that creates the ideal environment for pear tree nourishment. With these idyllic growing conditions, it’s no wonder Pacific Northwest pear growers produce over 80 percent of the nation’s fresh pears—and they’re available almost year-round. A rich history and a richer earth make these USA Pears the world’s finest.
    I was wondering if you came across chemical usage in your investigation.

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 01:43:41 PM PDT

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