Probably to nobody’s surprise in the Florida citrus sector, the latest crop estimate from USDA comes with a footnote of historic significance — of the dubious kind. Unfortunately, this has been the case more often in recent years due to HLB’s harsh impact. But the situation is exacerbated even further when you factor in a major hurricane strike from the likes of Irma.
According to USDA, the 2017-2018 Florida all-orange forecast now stands at 46 million boxes, down 4 million boxes from last month’s estimate. If the prediction comes to fruition, it will be 33% less than last season’s production and the least since the 1944-1945 season, which produced at total of 42.2 million boxes.
Back in August, pre-season signs were actually pointing in a positive direction. Prospects looked good. Then Irma paid a visit the following month. Since the initial USDA citrus estimate was released in October, Florida’s all-orange total has dropped 8 million boxes. The trend is likely to continue as trees work through the post-storm stress and endure other factors like heightened psyllid pressure, and the recent influx of below-normal temperatures.
In response to the latest development, Mike Sparks, Executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, released the following statement: “This is exactly what we thought would happen as the true damage begins to rear its ugly head in the groves across Florida. Unfortunately, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. Clearly, this lower estimate provides stark evidence that Congress needs to pass a citrus relief package so we can start to rebuild and put the industry on a path to sustainability while saving the communities that rely on citrus.”
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam echoed Sparks’ sentiment by releasing his own statement on the matter: “While much of the state has recovered and moved on from Hurricane Irma, Florida’s citrus growers continue to grapple with the unprecedented damage, which is still unfolding in many groves. Florida’s growers need support and they need it as quickly as possible. I will continue to work with Gov. Scott and leaders in Washington to get Florida’s growers the support and relief they need to rebuild.”
The grapefruit forecast remains unchanged at 4.65 million boxes. For comparison’s sake, if that number holds, it would represent 40% less than last season’s production and would be the least recorded since the 1918-1919 season.
The next USDA citrus crop estimate is scheduled to release on January 12.