Estimates of citrus production in Florida continue to slide as the 2018-2019 growing season nears an end.
Figures posted Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicate overall production of oranges, grapefruit and other specialty crops is off more than 10 percent from an initial forecast in October.
The latest numbers reflected the plight of an industry still struggling from 2017’s Hurricane Irma, decade-long pressure from deadly citrus-greening disease, expansion of development into rural areas and changes in national drinking habits.
“Again, we see that we are not out of the woods yet in terms of recovery,” Florida Department of Citrus Executive Director Shannon Shepp said in a prepared statement. “As growers continue to work toward increased productivity, we continue to support their efforts through the marketing of delicious and nutritious Florida citrus.”
The Florida Citrus Commission might consider some budget adjustments, based on the latest monthly forecasts, when it meets Wednesday in Bartow, according to the agenda.
Separate from the department’s budget, lawmakers included $8 million for research into citrus disease in the state’s spending plan (SB 2500) for next fiscal year. The funding, which must still be approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis, includes $2 million for the Citrus Research and Development Foundation to seek proposals to conduct large-scale scientific trials on new planting techniques designed to increase production.
Mark Hudson a state statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Friday that the orange crop is projected to fill 72.4 million 90-pound boxes — a standard industry measurement. The estimated number of oranges is down from an April forecast of 76.5 million boxes and from 79 million boxes forecast last fall.
Hudson said the calculations for the latest forecast include figures on boxes that have been processed, as well as oranges remaining in the field.
The May figure for oranges remains above the 44.95 million boxes filled in the hurricane-lost 2017-2018 growing season and the 68.85 million boxes two seasons ago.
Even with the lower forecast, the state remains the national leader, at nearly 59 percent, in the production of oranges. California is next at just under 40 percent.
Grapefruit in Florida is now forecast to fill 4.58 million boxes, down from 4.9 million boxes in April. When the season began, the forecast anticipated 6.7 million boxes. Two seasons ago, the state’s grapefruit growers filled 7.76 million boxes.
Specialty fruit, mostly tangerines and tangelos, account for another 1 million boxes in the latest monthly forecast, up from 950,000 in April but down from the 1.2 million boxes anticipated when the season kicked off.
Through the mid-1990s, the state’s citrus growers regularly filled more than 200 million boxes a year of oranges and 50 million boxes a year of grapefruit