In late August, citrus economics consultant Elizabeth Steger released a pleasantly surprising preliminary 2017-2018 Florida citrus season outlook, which included a marked year-over-year uptick in production for oranges. She pegged overall production at 75.5 million boxes, up from last season’s final tally of 68.7 million boxes.
Expectations were on the rise, and reports from groves were positive. Then along came Irma. The hurricane did major damage to multiple crops in the Sunshine State, especially citrus.
Seeming to take Irma’s impact into account, USDA’s initial 2017-2018 Florida citrus crop forecast reflects a departure from Steger’s optimistic outlook.
The government agency is predicting the all-orange crop to come in at 54 million boxes (23 million boxes of early, midseason, Navel, and Temple varieties; plus 31 million boxes of Valencias).
While the initial forecast is far from sunny for an industry that has been struggling, the numbers actually might not be as low as some in the industry were expecting — given what was left in Irma’s wake. “I’m disappointed the USDA did not delay the traditional October crop estimate until more data could be collected to fully assess the damage wrought by Irma,” stated Mike Sparks, Executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, in a memo sent to the association’s members. “Irma hit us just a month ago and although we respect the skill and professionalism of the USDA, there is no way they can put out a reliable number in that short time period.”
State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam echoed Sparks’ concern regarding the USDA’s crop count. “It’s important to recognize that the damage to Florida citrus is still unfolding, and will continue to for some time. I am concerned that the forecast does not accurately estimate the damages to our industry, given that groves are still under water and fruit is still dropping from trees. One thing is clear, Florida’s growers need support and they need it fast.”
The estimate for Florida grapefruit kicks off at a paltry 4.9 million boxes. Just for comparison’s sake, the grapefruit crop during the 2003-2004 season was 40.9 million boxes.
Growers and industry stakeholders will continue to watch for fluctuations in the figures as the season progresses.
USDA is scheduled to update its report on November 9.