Hurricane Irma was not kind to Florida's citrus industry, which was already besieged by dwindling production and citrus greening disease. In an effort to defend Florida's iconic agricultural industry, both federal and state government programs are working to protect this year's crop.
Before exploring the initiatives to help the industry, its worthwhile to take a look at the damage suffered within the state. After Hurricane Irma, Florida orange production for 2017-2018 was forecast at 50 million boxes, a 27% decrease from last season, according to USDA. The forecast was down 7% from the October prediction, which was widely criticized for not highlighting the destruction caused by the storm.
Meanwhile, growers and USDA officials expect orange forecast numbers to fall further in future monthly crop updates until harvest. The new report significantly increased the projected drop rates through the rest of the season, with orange drop rising to 51%-59% from 49%-45% in October, depending upon variety, reported The Ledger (Nov. 9).
To help combat this lost production, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service implemented an interim rule relaxing minimum size requirements for citrus products including oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and pummelos grown in Florida under the state's marketing order. The rule, recommended by the Citrus Administrative Committee, is intended to allow more oranges to be shipped to the fresh market and help reduce losses sustained by the state citrus industry.
Additionally, Florida's proposed 2018-19 budget includes $22 million for the citrus industry. The amount includes $10 million for the Citrus Research and Development Foundation and $7 million for the Citrus Health Response Program, which will take a leading role in helping growers replant healthy citrus trees that were lost to Hurricane Irma and citrus greening, reported The Ledger (Nov. 14).
Much remains to be seen in Florida's citrus industry, but governments are stepping up to the plate to help regional producers maintain their crop. As always, stay tuned to the Food Institute for updates regarding the impact of Hurricane Irma on the industry.