Richard Lyons’ Nursery has been reporting in this space for quite some time that the citrus industry in Florida is under assault. The primary threat is citrus greening, a disease for which a dependable cure has not yet been developed. This week there is another round of discouraging news. Attached below is a February 10 article from Sunshine State News detailing the latest concerns.
Florida’s citrus industry in crisis, needs support
On Tuesday 9 February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released their latest forecast of Florida orange production and the figures, while unchanged from January, remain almost 30 percent below what they were last season. In light of the figures, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said “Florida’s citrus industry is on a precipice.”
Putnam said that the 69 million boxes of oranges the USDA expects this season is a fraction of the 244 million boxes produced in the record high 1997-98 season.
“Florida is synonymous with citrus, and without immediate and tangible support, as well as a long-term solution, Florida is facing the prospect of losing its signature crop and its more than $10 billion economic impact.”
The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) kept the projection at 69.0 million boxes of oranges from Florida this season, the same as expected in January but considerably below the 74 million it forecast back in November and the 80 million included in October’s forecast. This latest number represents a 29 percent reduction from last year’s output. NASS continued to forecast 36 million boxes of early, midseason and Navel oranges, down 24 percent from last year. The forecast for Florida Valencia oranges remained at 33 million boxes, down 33 percent from last season and an 11 percent drop from NASS’ prediction from December.
Florida frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ) continued to decline as well with NASS now estimating 1.45 gallons per box, down from the 1.56 gallons per box expected in December and the 1.50 gallons a box, the same as last year’s final numbers, expected in January. The numbers looked far better in the fall. Back in October, NASS forecast 1.61 gallons a box which was lowered to 1.58 gallons per box in November.
The decline in Florida citrus in recent years is mostly the result of citrus greening.
In 2013, the Florida citrus industry — which generates $9 billion and employs more than 75,000 Floridians — saw its worst year in almost a quarter century and that downward trend has been continuing. Last year, the USDA awarded $30 million to fight citrus greening and, back in April, launched a project with an additional $23 million in grants to fight citrus greening.
In the latest round of the USDA’s efforts against citrus greening, earlier this week more than $20 million was awarded to universities and labs across the nation, including the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida, to help battle the disease.