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Orange production down as season ends

Orange production is down about 6% from the 2018-19 season.

Florida’s citrus growing season ended on a sour note, with production of the state’s signature orange crop down about 6% from the prior season.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday released final numbers for the 2019-2020 season, with growers filling 67.65 million 90-pound boxes, the industry-standard measurement.

That number was below the 71.85 million boxes filled during the 2018-2019 season. The industry entered the 2019-2020 season with an optimistic tone, expecting to continue a rebound after a disastrous 2017-2018 season in which Hurricane Irma reduced production.

The state, however, saw upticks during the 2019-2020 season in grapefruit and specialty crops. Grapefruit production in Florida ended with 4.85 million boxes, an increase from 4.51 million boxes in the 2018-2019 season.

Specialty citrus, primarily tangelos and tangerines, finished at 1.02 million boxes, up from last year’s total of 990,000 boxes.

Florida’s citrus industry has been in a spiral for two decades, as growers have faced pressure from residential and commercial development, foreign imports, changing drinking habits and citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease.

The state’s orange harvest in the past topped 200 million boxes, with a high of 244 million boxes in the 1997-1998 season. Grapefruit production through the mid-1990s was also up to 50 million boxes a year.

Even with the reduced numbers, Florida remains the nation’s top producer of oranges, accounting for 56.4 percent, while California produces 42.4 percent.

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