Juicy cit­rus pre­dic­tion be­lies gloom in groves

Tampa Bay Times - - Business - BY MALENA CAROLLO Times Staff Writer Con­tact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@ tam­pabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Fol­low @male­nac­arollo.

Florida in­dus­try of­fi­cials say the USDA or­ange fore­cast ig­nores Irma’s dam­age.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has a rosy pre­dic­tion for Florida’s or­ange crop yield — but Florida stake­hold­ers don’t be­lieve it. At 54 million boxes, Thurs­day’s fed­eral es­ti­mate is nearly dou­ble the fig­ure pro­jected pre­vi­ously by cit­rus trade or­ga­ni­za­tion Florida Cit­rus Mu­tual.

The fed­eral fig­ures, which were an­nounced on a noon con­fer­ence call, are one of the first of­fi­cial indicators of the scope of dam­age that Hur­ri­cane Irma in­flicted on the state’s cit­rus in­dus­try.

They are also sig­nif­i­cantly sun­nier than in­dus­try groups say they should be. In a sur­vey of Florida grow­ers con­ducted af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma, Florida Cit­rus Mu­tual es­ti­mated that Florida’s or­ange yield would be 31 million boxes, the low­est count since 1942.

“I’m dis­ap­pointed the USDA did not de­lay the tra­di­tional Oc­to­ber crop es­ti­mate un­til more data could be col­lected to fully as­sess the dam­age wrought by Irma,” Michael Sparks, CEO of Florida Cit­rus Mu­tual, said in a state­ment. “Irma hit us just a month ago and although we re­spect the skill and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the USDA, there is no way they can put out a re­li­able num­ber in that short time pe­riod.”

Ahead of the re­lease, Adam Put­nam, com­mis­sioner for the Florida Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Con­sumer Ser­vices, said Wed­nes­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., that he puts “zero stock” in the fed­eral fig­ures. He re­it­er­ated that sen­ti­ment in a soft­er­toned Thurs­day re­lease.

“I am con­cerned that to­day’s fore­cast does not ac­cu­rately es­ti­mate the dam­ages to our in­dus­try, given that groves are still un­der­wa­ter and fruit is still drop­ping from trees,” he said. “It’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that the dam­age to Florida cit­rus is still un­fold­ing, and will con­tinue to for some time.”

SCOTT KEELER | Times

The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture pre­dicts Florida’s or­ange yield to be 54 million boxes, much higher than state in­dus­try groups es­ti­mate. Af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma, fruit is still fall­ing from trees, Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sioner Adam Put­nam says.

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