“It’s essentially in free fall.”
That’s what Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam had to say about the state’s citrus industry this week when the USDA reported it had adjusted the orange-harvest forecast for Florida downward for the second straight month. The newest prediction by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is that 69 million 90-lb. boxes will be picked during the 2015-16 growing season. In November, the forecast was 74 million boxes.
The culprit for the decline is citrus greening, the bacterial disease which has been mentioned in this space several times since July 2012. What is so ominous is that there is no known cure. Typically the fruit on an affected tree turns yellow and drops prematurely; ultimately, the tree dies. Last year 25.5% of fruit dropped too soon. This year the estimated drop rate has increased to 36%.
Here are some additional statistics to further define the plight of Florida’s citrus industry. If the December forecast is correct, the 2015-16 orange harvest will be 72% lower than the peak — 44 million boxes — produced in 1997-98. The last time the crop was as low as 69 million boxes was in 1963-64. One media source reported that in Bradenton (Manatee County) alone, Tropicana Products employs 1,200 individuals to make orange juice. It leaves it to the imagination of readers to contemplate what will happen to the economy of the area if citrus greening cannot be overcome.
For these reasons, Richard Lyons’ Nursery will not stock — and recommends that you not plant — citrus trees until a remedy for citrus greening is found.