Florida Citrus & Irma

FLORIDA CITRUS GETS GUT-PUNCH FROM IRMA

By Kathy Panko, Environmental Issues Group

florida citrusHurricane Irma blew through Florida’s citrus crops on September 10th, littering the ground with the precious fruit and flooding the fields for days.  Irma arrived just weeks before the start of the grapefruit and orange harvests.  It may not be until the end of the season – March for grapefruits and May for oranges – before citrus farmers know the full impact of Irma’s destruction.  While most of us in Palm Beach County are getting back to normalcy, it’s a new normal for Florida’s agricultural industry.

The double whammy of wind and torrential rain is something that Florida citrus farmers never previously experienced.  Florida’s orange crop is expected to drop 21% (a 71 year low) this growing season, and some believe that percentage could grow.  The forecast also predicts grapefruit production dropping 37%.   However, nearly 50 – 60% of oranges are still on the trees, so there will be oranges to squeeze, carton, and sell in supermarkets.  Grapefruit is tricky because about 80% is earmarked for export to Europe and Asia, so testing is underway to gauge the fruit’s stamina for traveling across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  Florida is second only to Brazil in global orange juice production and the state remains the world’s leading producer of grapefruit.

Irma was a significant blow to an industry that has been hard hit by disease – most recently by citrus greening disease.  But greening is now a battle for the future, as surviving the effects of Irma is first priority.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported that preliminary estimates show losses to the citrus industry approach $761 million.  Governor Rick Scott has activated a $25 million emergency-loan program to support Florida’s citrus growers.  Much is still unknown with some groves still underwater and fruit rotting and falling.  Florida citrus farmers may be down, but this industry is not out.  Farmers are doing all they can to make sure citrus is a sustainable industry going forward – and it will be!

Sources:

Bloomberg              10/12/2017

Palm Beach Post     10/01/2017 & 10/13/2017            

VisitFlorida.com