Florida orange production is expected to drop for the 2017-2018 season in the wake of Hurricane Irma and continued problems with citrus greening, according to new numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
On Thursday, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released its first orange forecast of the season and the numbers look grim for the Sunshine State. The national all orange forecast is down to 4.34 million tons, a drop of 16 percent from last year.
Things are even worse in Florida as NASS expects 54 million boxes of oranges to be produced, down 21 percent from last year’s final production of almost 69 million boxes. Navel varieties are expected to take a major hit with only 23 million boxes produced in Florida, a drop of 30 percent from last season. Florida Valencia oranges are not taking as large a hit but their production is also expected to drop to 31 million boxes, down 13 percent from last season.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam weighed in after the numbers were released and said the numbers could be worse than what NASS is projecting.
“Hurricane Irma’s path could not have been more lethal to Florida citrus,” Putnam said. “I am concerned that today’s forecast does not accurately estimate the damages to our industry, given that groves are still under water and fruit is still dropping from trees. It’s important to recognize that the damage to Florida citrus is still unfolding, and will continue to for some time.
“One thing is clear, Florida’s growers need support and they need it fast,” Putnam added. “I will continue to work with leaders in Washington to get Florida’s growers the support and relief they need to rebuild as quickly as possible. There is no group of people more stubborn or more resilient than Florida’s growers, and we will get through this together.”
Earlier in the week, Putnam spoke to the Florida congressional delegation earlier in the week and noted that around 70 percent of citrus trees in the Sunshine State were impacted by Hurricane Irma with more than $760 million in damages. While speaking to the delegation, Putnam made the case for federal help for Florida citrus.
Outside of Hurricane Irma, the decline in Florida citrus in recent years is mostly the result of Huanglongbing (HLB), better known as citrus greening. Spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny insect, citrus greening infects trees, leading to deformed and bitter fruit. Eventually, citrus greening kills the tree. One of the few ways to fight citrus greening is by removing the tree.