More hits to citrus: Forecast portends further decrease - Florida Politics

More hits to citrus: Forecast portends further decrease

As Florida’s citrus industry “seeks consideration for federal emergency funding,” a U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast Thursday “confirmed a continuing decline in production due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on this season’s crop,” the Florida Department of Citrus said in a press release.

“The report predicts Florida orange production for 2017-18 at 50 million boxes of oranges, a 27 percent decrease over last season,” it said. “Florida grapefruit is expected to produce 4.65 million boxes, a decrease of 40 percent.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the last decrease we see,” said Shannon Shepp, the department’s executive director.

The monthly forecasts are best guesses; the real numbers come after the growing season ends. It’s those figures that tell the story of citrus in Florida.

The state’s citrus industry also has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree.

“Hurricane Irma had widespread impact on our industry and growers are still trying to pick up the pieces,” Shepp added. “High winds and flooding rains damaged already weakened trees making it even more difficult to hold on to the fruit that’s left.

“Luckily, Florida citrus growers are a resilient group of hardworking individuals and I know they’ll find a way to carry on like they always do.”

In a separate statement, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam later said the “lowered forecast shows that the damage to Florida citrus from Hurricane Irma is still unfolding.”

“And it will continue to for some time,” Putnam said. “Florida’s growers need support and they need it fast. I will continue to work with Gov. (Rick) Scott and leaders in Washington to get Florida’s growers the support and relief they need to rebuild as quickly as possible.”

Here’s more from the Department of Citrus release:

Florida growers reported 30 to 70 percent crop loss after Hurricane Irma’s landfall on Sept. 10, with the southwest region of the state receiving the most damage.

The hurricane uprooted trees and left many groves sitting in standing water for up to three weeks, potentially damaging the root systems.

In October, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced that Florida citrus sustained more than $760 million in damages due to Hurricane Irma. Those numbers are expected to grow as the season continues.

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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