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Slight uptick for Florida oranges, but citrus woes persist

May showed a slight uptick for Florida oranges from projections but declines for grapefruit and other fruits. [Photo by Max]

With one leader saying it is on the “brink of a disaster,” Florida’s citrus industry is nearing the end of the 2023-2024 growing season with little improvement from the previous, hurricane-marred season.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on June 12 released a monthly forecast that showed a slight uptick from May projections for the state’s orange crop but declines for grapefruit and specialty fruits.

The forecast for the overall citrus harvest is about 11% higher than the 2022-2023 yield, which was the lowest in more than nine decades.

The June numbers also were down 12% from what the U.S. Department of Agriculture expected when the season started in October — and more than 50% lower than production during the 2021-2022 season, before Hurricane Ian caused widespread damage to groves.

Matt Joyner, the executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, said the revised forecast, with the increased projection for oranges, gives “growers renewed hope that our industry will overcome the ongoing challenges.”

In addition to hurricane damage, the industry has faced a deadly disease known as citrus greening.

“Florida citrus growers remain remarkably resilient, seeking innovative solutions to overcome drought across the citrus belt, recover from 2022 Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, and combat citrus greening,” Joyner said in a prepared statement.

Sen. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican and citrus grower who is slated to become Senate president in November, said during an appearance on The News Service of Florida’s “Deeper Dive With Dara Kam” podcast that he will fight for the industry, which he said “is on the brink of a disaster like we’ve never seen.”

“We’re looking for ways to deploy energy, resources, you name it at the state level to help intervene into what is — I’m not going to use the word again — but a really, really bad situation,” said Albritton, whose groves were damaged by Hurricane Ian. “There is some hope. The industry just needs a partner. It needs some help to bring a solution.”

Growers this season are on pace to fill 20.1 million 90-pound boxes of citrus, according to the USDA forecast. The harvest plummeted from 45.28 million boxes in 2021-2022 to 18.11 million in the 2022-2023 season.

Florida is projected to produce 17.86 million boxes of oranges this season, up from 15.82 million in 2022-2023 but down from 41.2 million in 2021-2022. The new forecast for oranges was 60,000 boxes higher than the May projection.

The state now is expected to produce 1.79 million boxes of grapefruit, down from 1.81 million in 2022-2023 and 3.33 million in 2021-2022. The new grapefruit number was down 10,000 boxes from the May projection.

The forecast for specialty crops, primarily tangerines and tangelos, fell from 500,000 boxes in May to 450,000 in June. The total was 480,000 boxes last season and 750,000 in 2021-2022.

The monthly forecast was released as Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a state budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year that includes more than $47 million for the citrus industry.

The spending plan includes $29 million for technologies to research, treat and prevent citrus greening, as well as $9 million for citrus marketing.

Albritton pointed to technology that is getting closer to protecting trees from mosquitoes that transmit citrus greening and programs being expanded to commercially plant a type of orange tree, the Donaldson, that has produced fruit despite being infected by the disease.

“They’re very vigorous, one of the most vigorous varieties out there, which means they grow fast,” Albritton said of the Donaldson tree. “We’re going to know in two or three years: Is this going to be part of our salvation or not?”


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