February 25, 2024

Citrus Industry Gets Sour Forecast

TALLAHASSEE --- Federal officials Thursday reduced a forecast for Florida citrus production this growing season, dealing a setback to a struggling industry that continues to rebuild from Hurricane Ian.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a forecast that, in part, projected Florida will produce 19.8 million boxes of oranges during the 2023-2024 season, down from a 20.5 million projection in a January forecast.

The new projection would be an increase from the 2022-2023 season, when orange production totaled 15.8 million boxes in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. But outside of the 2022-2023 season, the current citrus forecast would be the lowest production since 1929-1930. Also, the totals would be far below the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons.

The industry has seen groves devastated the past two decades by citrus greening disease. But it took another major hit in September 2022, when Ian barreled through citrus-growing areas.

In releasing quarterly financial information Wednesday, major citrus-grower Alico, Inc., said Hurricane Ian’s impact “may take another season, or more, for the groves to recover to pre-hurricane production levels.”

Thursday’s reduced forecast stemmed from a 9 percent drop in the projection for non-Valencia oranges.

Florida Citrus Mutual called the new projections “disheartening.”

“We are holding onto hope that the therapies and tools we are utilizing to fight citrus greening will continue to support the industry's comeback,” Florida Citrus Mutual CEO Matt Joyner said in a prepared statement. “Just this time last year, citrus groves were badly damaged and crops were destroyed following Hurricane Ian in September 2022, crushing Florida citrus growers and the progress made in the fight against citrus greening.”

To help the industry, a Senate budget plan (SB 2500) includes $25.5 million for citrus research, with $3 million directed “to conduct large-scale, science-based, field trials that demonstrate the impact of utilizing a combination of management and therapeutic tools for plantings and the rehabilitation of existing trees.”

The Senate spending plan also proposes $7.5 million for a citrus recovery loan program in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and $1 million for a cost-share program to help citrus tree nurseries purchase equipment.

A House spending plan (HB 5001) includes $8 million for citrus research and another $17.96 million for marketing that promotes “consumer or influencer engagement and awareness of the health, safety, wellness, nutrition, and uses of Florida citrus products.”

Senate and House leaders will negotiate a final budget in the coming weeks for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, which will start July 1.

The projection of 19.8 million 90-pound boxes of oranges this season would be down from 41.2 million boxes during the 2021-2022 season. Most of Florida’s oranges are processed into juice.

Another 2.4 million boxes are projected to be filled this season with grapefruit, and 550,000 boxes are projected to be filled with specialty fruits, both unchanged from the January forecast.

Growers filled 1.81 million boxes of grapefruit during the 2022-2023 season and 3.33 million boxes during the 2021-2022 season.

Tags: News Service of Florida

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