Florida citrus growers face tough year ahead with weakest crop since the Great Depression

Citrus fruit growing on crops — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Aoshi VN

It’s possible that Florida citrus growers will produce the weakest crop since the Great Depression, which may be unduly optimistic for an industry still recovering from Hurricane Ian as the new season gets underway.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released an initial forecast for the 2022-2023 growing season that displayed overall citrus production down approximately 31.8 percent from last year’s season. Based on Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Statistics, that number would result in the lowest production since the 1935-1936 season.

The statistics made public on Wednesday, according to Mark Hudson, a state statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, were based on surveys of citrus groves conducted prior to Hurricane Ian’s devastation of Southwest Florida’s citrus-growing regions. Surveys revealed that plants were producing smaller-sized fruit and fewer oranges per tree, two problems that the sector has battled with for years, including the deadly citrus-greening disease.

“We finished up on measurements about the 23rd or 24th of September,” Hudson said.

The deadly Category 4 storm landed on Sept. 28 in Charlotte and Lee counties before heading across the Sunshine State. Hudson stated that there wasn’t enough time or resources to return to the groves for a post-storm update of the weather conditions.

The industry produced the least amount during the 2021–2022 season in eight decades. Citrus growers must contend with citrus greening in addition to rising land demand, greater labor costs, and foreign competition in the quickly developing state.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., made what he called an “initial” major-disaster budget request of $33 billion to help rebuild following Ian, including $2.955 billion to address effects on the agriculture business, before the forecast was made public on Wednesday.

Kelli Stargel, the chairwoman of the Senate’s appropriations committee and a Lakeland Republican with term restrictions this year, declared on Wednesday that the state’s leaders must continue to assist the sector.

“I personally do not want to see all these agriculture communities and orange groves turn into housing sprouts,” Stargel said. “I know we have a housing issue as well. … I’m termed out. But I’m confident our future House and Senate and future agriculture commissioner and others will be looking at these issues very seriously, on how we can support agriculture and making sure we have food that is locally grown within our country and our state.”

Stories that matter are our priority. At Florida Insider, we make sure that the information we provide our readers is accurate, easy-to-read, and informative. Whether you are interested in business, education, government, history, sports, real estate, nature or travel: we have something for everyone. Follow along for the best stories in the Sunshine State.