The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released a forecast indicating a major drop in orange production in Florida.
NASS unveiled its October crop report on Friday with grim news for the Sunshine State as it predicted less output across the board for several types of oranges in Florida.
“The United States' all orange forecast for the 2015-2016 season is 5.77 million tons, down 10 percent from the 2014-2015 final utilization,” NASS noted on Friday. “The Florida all orange forecast, at 80 million boxes (3.60 million tons), is down 17 percent from last season’s final utilization. Early, midseason, and Navel varieties in Florida are forecast at 40 million boxes (1.80 million tons), down 16 percent from last season’s final utilization. The Florida Valencia orange forecast, at 40 million boxes (1.80 million tons), is down 19 percent from last season’s final utilization.”
The one bright spot for Florida’s citrus industry was an increase in frozen orange juice.
“Florida frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ) yield forecast for the 2015-2016 season is 1.61 gallons per box at 42 degrees Brix, up 7 percent from last season’s final yield of 1.50 gallons per box,” NASS noted in its projections.
The decline in Florida citrus in recent years is mostly the result of Huanglongbing (HLB), better known as citrus greening.
Spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny insect, citrus greening infects trees, leading to deformed and bitter fruit. Eventually, citrus greening kills the tree. One of the few ways to fight citrus greening is by removing the tree.
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. Earlier this 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.
The new projections caught the attention of members of the Florida congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., part of the House leadership as senior deputy majority whip.
“With Florida’s citrus production forecast now down to 80 million boxes, our citrus industry continues to be in peril due to citrus greening,” Ross said on Friday. “This devastating disease has resulted in historical low production rates for the past several years.
“Replanting new citrus trees in Florida and investing in finding a cure for citrus greening is essential for the future of this important industry,” Ross added. “That is why I have supported more than $150 million in funding to combat citrus greening, and I will be supporting soon-to-be-introduced legislation that will allow growers’ replanting costs to be immediately tax deductible for 10 years.
“While the citrus industry has had its hardships, it is resilient, and we have reasons to remain optimistic,” Ross said in conclusion. “We must do all we can to find a cure for citrus greening and ensure Florida remains the citrus capital of the world. Moving forward, helping Florida citrus growers and the citrus industry as a whole will continue to be a top priority.”
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam noted that he asked the Legislature for $18.7 million for efforts to defeat and research citrus greening. Putnam said on Friday the stakes were high.
“On the heels of the smallest orange crop in nearly 50 years last season, this initial citrus crop estimate confirms that Florida’s citrus industry is in a fight for its life," Putnam said. "The health of Florida citrus is important to every Floridian - not just those who depend on it for their livelihoods. We will continue to fight to save the industry, its more than $10.7 billion economic impact and the more than 64,000 jobs it supports.”
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