In the era of HLB and postbloom fruit drop, the Florida citrus industry has had to adjust to a new normal. The new normal, unfortunately, has consisted of declining production numbers. And if the first official crop forecast of the 2016-2017 season is any indication, the stakes have been raised on the challenge at hand.
According to USDA, Florida’s all-orange estimate is 70 million boxes. That figure is down 10 million boxes from last season’s opening estimate and down more than 11 million boxes from last season’s final tally.
This should not come as a big surprise to growers and other industry stakeholders. When we polled readers about their expectation of USDA’s first forecast for the 2016-2017 Florida orange season, a vast majority of respondents thought the initial estimate would come in below 80 million boxes.
Though the estimate follows a familiar downward trend, USDA’s forecast is not nearly as drastic as the early prognostication released in August by Elizabeth Steger. The industry consultant placed Florida’s all-orange crop for the 2016-2017 season at 60.5 million boxes.
The estimated breakdown from USDA for October is as follows: 34 million boxes of early, midseason, Navel, and Temple varieties; plus 36 million boxes of Valencias.
The overall grapefruit estimate came in at 9.6 million boxes.
In response to the forecast, Florida Citrus Mutual released a statement from Executive VP/CEO Mike Sparks that read as follows: “The 2016-17 citrus season is here and we are cautiously optimistic heading into it. The all Florida orange forecast number of 70 million boxes is about what we expected, and although it’s low Florida growers will again use their trademark resilience to bring consumers the best citrus in the world. We expect upward pressure on grower returns.”
USDA will release updates to the forecast monthly until the season ends in July.
It will be interesting to watch how the forecasts fluctuate if and when the impacts of Hurricane Matthew are taken into account.