Florida citrus experiences record low season

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Florida citrus experiences record low season

Florida citrus growers have recorded another decline in production, with the industry experiencing a record low season.

The state produced 40.95 million boxes of oranges, the lowest amount since the 1942-43 season. Although up slightly from a June forecast of 40.7 million boxes, it was a 22.7 percent decline from the 2020-21 season, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Similarly, grapefruit production ended the season at 3.3 million boxes, 19.5 percent below the 2020-2021 total, and the lowest total for a single season since 1917-18. Specialty fruits such as tangerines and tangelos stood at 750,000 boxes, down 15.7 percent on last year’s figures, stated an article by WLRN 91.3 FM.

The industry has faced troubles for years because of issues such as a bacterial disease known as citrus greening, as well as development pressures, increasing labor costs and lingering impacts from 2017 hurricanes.

However, “this is not an industry that we're ready to give up on,” Matt Joyner, executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, stated Tuesday.

Shelley Rossetter, the Florida Department of Citrus’ assistant director of global marketing, echoed this sentiment: “While challenges remain, one thing is clear: the Florida citrus industry is committed to continuing to grow great tasting Florida citrus for years to come.”

In addition, the industry and state have taken a variety of steps to try to deal with citrus greening, which is more formally known as huanglongbing, or HLB.

“We are fortunate to have the tools, funding, and people in place to move us forward on the path toward a solution to HLB,” Rossetter said. “With support from the governor and state Legislature, the industry is now working on a program to expedite the propagation of plant materials that may be tolerant or resistant to HLB.”

Also during this season, growers suffered through a winter freeze that significantly affected groves in Highlands and DeSoto counties and could impact the 2022-23 harvest.

“Along with fruit that we had to salvage, (growers) also lost a fair amount of that bloom for next year's crop, which was already starting to come out,” Joyner said. “They'll put new bloom on and new fruit on, but we're just not sure yet what the impacts of losing that early bloom are going to be.”

With regards to the 2017 hurricane damage, the industry has put in 68,000 new acres of citrus trees, which officials hope will gradually add 8 million to 13 million boxes a year in production.

“New plantings take four or five years to come online. So, there’s sort of a suite of things that we hope are going to start to swing that pendulum back to the greater levels of productivity,” Joyner concluded.

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