Twenty years ago, the life of a Florida citrus grower was pretty sweet – at least compared to modern times. Back in the 1997-1998 season, Florida grapefruit producers harvested and packed a record 49.5 million boxes. Fast forward to today and that number now stands at a projected 3.88 million boxes for the 2017-2018 campaign, according to the latest USDA citrus crop estimate. The paltry number is not only light years away from the hefty haul of two decades ago, but also markedly down from last season’s output of 7.8 million boxes.
Years of disease pressure, most notably from canker early on and citrus greening for more than a decade now, has taken an enormous toll on overall yields. Multiple hurricane strikes in the Indian River citrus growing area in 2004, as well as a thorough thumping from Hurricane Irma last year added salt in the wound. The bleeding, however, should stop at least for this season as harvest is complete for Florida grapefruit.
In addition, real estate trends on the Treasure Coast have led to more farmland transactions over the years. Prices provided during the recent Lay of the Land Conference in Orlando showed citrus groves that are no longer productive are selling in the $3,500 to $5,300 per acre range, while better producing groves are fetching $5,000 to $8,000 per acre.
So, what about oranges? The updated all-orange number stands unchanged from last month’s estimate at 44.95 million boxes. Last season, the final all-orange count finished up at 66.7 million boxes. Flashing back again to 20 years ago, the orange harvest topped 244 million boxes.
Well before Hurricane Irma did her dirty work, pre-season crop estimates were actually projected to be up year over year. The silver lining for now, the sign-up period is fast approaching for eligible citrus growers to receive hurricane recovery aid made available by the government.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam stayed positive in a statement his office released shortly after the USDA forecast was reported: “While today’s final citrus crop forecast brings this horrible season to a close, it’s important to remember that the industry is still recovering from Hurricane Irma’s unprecedented damage last year. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the USDA, Florida’s agriculture industry, and our elected leaders, much-needed disaster assistance is on the way to help Florida’s growers.”
The final USDA 2017-2018 citrus crop report is scheduled for release on July 12.