Flor­ida’s or­ange crop may drop 21%

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - MONEY - By Jim Turner The News Ser­vice Of Flor­ida

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.

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