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Citrus leaders look to weather Ian

Citrus greening shrinks the size of oranges.
Jessica Meszaros
WUSF Public Media

The Florida Citrus Commission shifted money around to help weather the impacts of Hurricane Ian and other issues like citrus greening.

Shifting about $1 million from marketing and public relations into reserves, the Florida Citrus Commission hopes to weather the impacts of Hurricane Ian, which exacerbated an already-anticipated decline in this season’s citrus crop.

The money shift and a few smaller changes allowed the commission on Wednesday to approve a revised $29.795 million budget for the Department of Citrus without revamping a tax that growers pay on each box of citrus to help with marketing. The issues will be revisited in December.

The overall budget, down $123,000 from what had been tentatively approved in July, is based now on a projected harvest that is below an initial crop forecast for the recently started growing season. The initial forecast was released two weeks ago by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Christine Marion, the department’s deputy executive director of administration and finance, said the budget should withstand a harvest down to 18 million 90-pound boxes this season. In July, the commission was looking at growers filling 35 million boxes of oranges, 3.6 million boxes of grapefruit, and 800,000 boxes of specialty fruits.

The USDA on Oct. 12 released an initial forecast for the 2022-2023 growing season that projected overall production at 30.7 million boxes, which would be a 31.8 percent drop from the past season. That projection was based on data from before Hurricane Ian caused massive damage to citrus-growing areas when it hit Southwest Florida and crossed Central Florida.

Among numerous other issues confronting the industry, growers have struggled for decades with deadly citrus-greening disease, and USDA field surveys found trees in September showing smaller-sized fruit and fewer oranges per tree.

The USDA forecast, which will be updated in December, projected that citrus growers will produce 28 million boxes of oranges and 2 million boxes of grapefruit during the 2022-2023 season. Specialty fruits, primarily tangerines and tangelos, are expected to fill another 700,000 boxes.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on Monday estimated Ian inflicted $417 million to $675 million in losses to the citrus industry. That was part of an estimated $1.18 billion to $1.9 billion in damage to Florida’s agriculture industry.

The state report said 154,846 of Florida’s 375,302 acres of citrus were hit by Category 4-force winds in the storm.

A University of Florida-Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences report released last week estimated the impact to the citrus industry at $146.9 million to $304.3 million.

Under the budget approved Wednesday during a meeting at the department’s Bartow office, the “box” taxes will stand at 12 cents a box for processed oranges, 5 cents a box for fresh oranges and 7 cents a box for grapefruit and specialty fruits.

Most Florida oranges are processed into juice.

The budget includes $19.125 million in general-revenue money from the state for marketing, research and administration.

When announced in July, the budget included $1 million to research new varieties of fruit and another $1 million to develop plants resistant to citrus greening,

A majority of the budget goes into domestic marketing aimed at driving orange-juice sales, which have been increasing because of inflation and are expected to have higher shelf prices due to the storm.