The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released its crop forecast on Thursday and its outlook on oranges across the nation is “virtually unchanged” from last year, though Florida production is expected to rise slightly.
“The United States all orange forecast for the 2019-2020 season is 5.33 million tons, virtually unchanged from the 2018-2019 final utilization," NASS noted. “The Florida all orange forecast, at 74.0 million boxes (3.33 million tons), is up 3 percent from last season's final utilization. Early, midseason and Navel varieties in Florida are forecast at 32.0 million boxes (1.44 million tons), up 5 percent from last season's final utilization. The Florida Valencia orange forecast, at 42.0 million boxes (1.89 million tons), is up 2 percent from last season's final utilization.”
The USDA is also forecasting 4.5 million boxes of grapefruit and just under 1 million boxes of tangerines in 2019-20.
State Agriculture Nikki Fried weighed in on the new numbers on Thursday afternoon.
“Today’s forecast reflects the resilience of Florida’s citrus growers, dedication to the citrus industry, and commitment to innovation in the face of challenges,” Fried said. “Citrus is Florida’s signature crop, and we’re committed to supporting our citrus producers with new research, technology, and techniques to fight the spread of citrus greening. Strengthening our citrus industry takes teamwork, and Florida Citrus Mutual has been essential in helping identify research funding and thinking outside the box to support and promote Florida-grown citrus.”
The Florida Department of Citrus applauded the news.
“This reflects what we’ve been hearing from growers,” said Shannon Shepp, the executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus. “Florida citrus is here to stay. We remain the state’s signature crop, and our growers are committed to providing nutritious, great tasting Florida Citrus for years to come.”
Ellis Hunt, the chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission, also cheered the news, insisting Thursday’s forecast is “a positive indicator that the Florida citrus industry is coming back.”
But even in its current form, citrus production is considerably down from its peak of 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season, thanks in large part to citrus greening.
Introduced to Florida in 1998 probably through the Port of Miami, citrus greening is spread by a vector called the Asian citrus psyllid -- an insect no larger than the head of a pin. Infected trees produce misshapen, unmarketable and bitter fruit. Over time, it inhibits the tree's ability to produce fruit. After becoming infected, trees usually die in three to five years. The only way to control the disease is to remove the tree.
Researchers estimate that more than half of Florida’s citrus groves are infected with citrus greening.
Greening has crippled citrus production around the world, including in Asia and Africa. A decade ago, psyllids were discovered in Brazil, which, with its abundant rural land, has tried to outrun the disease by removing countless trees and planting new acres. Florida is second in the world market only to Brazil in orange juice production.