Florida’s citrus forecast predicts lowest yield since WWII

Mass of ripe citrus fruits oranges in metal container and working conveyor — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Tanya Kalian

Florida’s dwindling citrus industry continues to see a major decrease in crops for the current growing season, with the harvest on track for the lowest yield since World War II.

With the latest troubling prediction attributed to a recent cold snap, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lowered its Florida citrus forecast by over 7 percent from the previous update in March, continuing to lower the decline since the first forecast was issued in October to nearly 19 percent.

In the meantime, grapefruit production has been cut by almost 8 percent from earlier estimates.

“After cold-weather events, we expect to see dips like this,” Shelley Rossetter, the Florida Citrus Commission’s assistant director of global marketing, said in an email Friday. “They are never what we want to see but are a part of the set of challenges growers face every season.”

Despite increased demand for citrus products, specifically orange juice since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the fruit industry has been on a downward spiral for nearly two decades. The downward projection is due to foreign imports, commercial and residential development, changes in beverage and consumption habits, and, since 2005, a deadly bacterial disease outbreak of Huanglongbing, or citrus greening.

The 2020-2021 season ended with 52.8 million industry-standard 90-pound boxes filled with oranges. An additional 4.1 million boxes contained grapefruit, while 890,000 boxes were loaded with specialty crops, including tangelos and tangerines.

The overall crop for 2022 is expected to fill 42.6 million boxes, including 3.6 million boxes of grapefruit, 38.2 million boxes of oranges, and 800,000 boxes of specialty crops.

The current season would be the smallest total since 40.87 million boxes were produced in the 1937-1938 season. This is incredibly alarming for an industry that produced approximately 230 million boxes of oranges and had all citrus production at 287.2 million boxes two decades ago.

In comparison, the Hurricane Irma-ravaged 2017-2018 season ended with about 49 million boxes.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried issued a prepared statement Friday, stating that her department “remains committed to supporting growers every way we can.”

“This legislative session, my department and I secured more than $18 million for our citrus industry, including $8 million for research and $6 million to combat citrus pests and diseases,” Fried said. “Consumers can also help by choosing Fresh From Florida citrus when shopping to support our local citrus growers as they work to help us keep Florida growing.”

A record $112.1 billion budget (HB 5001) passed by Florida lawmakers this spring includes $5 million to conduct broad, science-based plantings to influence the next steps to increase citrus production and $3 million for the Department of Citrus to conduct extensive research on citrus disease.

Half of the funds for the plantings would go directly to growers who own between five and 2,500 acres.

An additional $2 million would go towards a greenhouse operation where strong, citrus greening-tolerant trees and seedlings would be grown.

The budget also includes $5 million for consumer and influence engagement regarding the “awareness of the health, safety, wellness, nutrition, and uses of Florida citrus products.” An additional $12 million is reserved for marketing. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has not received the budget yet.

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