Florida’s Citrus Production Forecast Lowered for the Season
Federal officials have recently revised their forecast for Florida’s citrus production this season, signaling a challenging period for the industry as it seeks recovery from the impacts of Hurricane Ian and battles the longstanding threat of citrus greening disease.
Setback for the Industry
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a new forecast that projects Florida will produce 19.8 million boxes of oranges during the 2023-2024 season, down from the 20.5 million projection made in a January forecast. This reduction in projection deals a setback to a struggling industry that continues to rebuild from the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian.
While the current citrus forecast shows an increase from the 2022-2023 season, when orange production totaled 15.8 million boxes in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, it is important to note that the new projection would be the lowest production since 1929-1930. Additionally, the totals would be far below the production levels seen in the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons.
Challenges Faced by the Industry
The Florida citrus industry has faced significant challenges in recent years. The groves have been devastated by citrus greening disease, and the industry took another major hit in September 2022 when Hurricane Ian barreled through citrus-growing areas.
Major citrus-grower Alico, Inc. stated in its quarterly financial information that Hurricane Ian’s impact “may take another season, or more, for the groves to recover to pre-hurricane production levels.”
Thursday’s reduced forecast is a result of a 9 percent drop in the projection for non-Valencia oranges. Florida Citrus Mutual, an organization representing citrus growers, expressed disappointment with the new projections, calling them “disheartening.”
Florida Citrus Mutual CEO Matt Joyner said in a prepared statement, “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. 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.”
Support for the Industry
To help the industry recover, a Senate budget plan (SB 2500) includes $25.5 million for citrus research. Of this amount, $3 million is allocated to conduct large-scale 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, as well as $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.
Projected Citrus Production Numbers
The projection for the current season estimates that Florida will produce 19.8 million 90-pound boxes of oranges, down from 41.2 million boxes during the 2021-2022 season. It is important to note that most of Florida’s oranges are processed into juice.
Additionally, the projection shows that 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. In comparison, growers filled 1.81 million boxes of grapefruit during the 2022-2023 season and 3.33 million boxes during the 2021-2022 season.
The lowered forecast for Florida’s citrus production this season poses a significant challenge for an industry still recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Ian and struggling to combat citrus greening disease. The reduced projection reflects the ongoing difficulties faced by citrus growers, with the current season expected to have the lowest production levels in almost a century.
While the industry remains hopeful that therapies and tools to fight citrus greening will support its comeback, continued investment in research and recovery programs is crucial. The proposed funding in the Senate and House budget plans demonstrates a commitment to helping the industry rebuild and overcome the obstacles it faces.
With negotiations underway for the final budget, industry stakeholders will eagerly await the decisions made to support the recovery and future success of Florida’s citrus industry.