Florida’s orange crop may drop 21%
TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s struggling orange crop is expected to drop 21 percent this growing season, a percentage some believe could become larger as farmers continue to suffer the effects of Hurricane Irma.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday forecast that Florida will produce enough oranges to fill 54 million 90-pound boxes during the 2017-2018 season. That number would be down from a decades-low 68.7 million boxes in the past growing season.
The forecast isn’t good for an industry that has been in a steady decline due in large part to the impact of deadly citrus greening disease. Growers reported crop losses of 40 percent to 100 percent after Irma swept through the state a month ago.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, said that after Irma hit, the “fruit on the ground was so thick it was hard to walk through” in groves throughout her community.
The forecast, the first for the 2017-2018 growing season, also shows grapefruit production dropping 37 percent, with the harvest filling 4.9 million boxes. The red variety is projected to account for 4 million boxes. Grapefruit during the past growing season filled 7.8 million boxes.
The forecast comes as state officials push Congress to add $2.5 billion for Florida’s agriculture industry to a disaster-relief proposal now under consideration.
Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam met Wednesday with Florida’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.
A report from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimated that losses to the citrus crop and trees from Irma approach $761 million. The state’s vegetable, nursery, cattle, dairy, sugar, non-citrus fruit and timber crops all were impacted by the massive storm. Scott has activated a $25 million emergency loan program to support citrus growers. Putnam said that could be or expanded to include other parts of the agriculture industry.