Florida Citrus Numbers Continue To Decline
Citrus production continues to plummet in Florida, as the first forecast for the 2016-2017 growing season indicates a 14 percent drop in the state's orange crop.
The forecast Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that Florida growers will harvest enough oranges to fill 70 million 90-pound boxes in the coming months, down from 81.6 million boxes in the 2015-2016 season.
The outlook came as the harvest for 2015-2016 was almost 16 percent below the 2014-2015 season and marked a nearly five-decade low, as groves have been hit hard by the deadly citrus-greening disease.
State Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who is chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a release the forecast in some respect "represents industry stability."
The state budget that went into effect July 1 includes $8 million to help fight citrus greening and $14.7 million for a citrus health response program within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Florida, which accounted for 49 percent of total U.S. citrus production in the past season, has been struggling since 2009 against citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease. Also, the state has seen reductions in agricultural land, which decreased by 4 percent in the past year.
The Florida Department of Citrus, which is funded through a tax growers pay on each box of citrus, expressed some optimism in noting the forecast is higher than some people had anticipated.
The Department of Citrus noted that growers had gathered Wednesday in Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch in Lake Placid to hear the midday forecast live.
The forecast also placed the coming grapefruit harvest at 9.6 million boxes, which would be down from 10.8 million boxes in 2015-2016, an 11 percent decline. Grapefruit production fell 16 percent from the 2014-2015 growing season to the 2015-2016 season.
But it's not all decreases for the industry.
The production of tangerines and tangelos, which hit a low of 1.415 million boxes last season, is forecast to be up to 1.65 million boxes in the coming harvest.
As the industry continues grappling with greening and lower overall production, the Citrus Commission is expected Oct. 26 to give final approval to a plan that would drop the tax rate on growers from 23 cents to 10 cents on each 90-pound box of processed oranges. The tax could go from 19 cents to 10 cents for each box of grapefruit. Some major growers have called for reducing the rates to 7 cents a box.