Florida citrus picture slightly improves

Author: Jim Turner/ News Service Florida
Credit: News Service Florida.

Florida’s beleaguered citrus growers got a slight bump Thursday in their production forecast as the 2020-2021 season approaches its end.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday raised the projected output from Florida growers to be enough oranges to fill 52.7 million 90-pound boxes.

The new outlook for the season, with one month to go, was up from a May forecast of 51.7 million 90-pound boxes, the standard industry measurement.

But while the new forecast inched up, it continues to reflect troubles in the industry, which two decades ago filled more than 200 million boxes a year. The 2020-2021 forecast amount is nearly 22 percent lower than the yield of 67.4 million boxes during the 2019-2020 season and almost 27 percent below the 71.85 million boxes in the 2018-2019 season. Most of the state’s oranges are processed into orange juice.

Florida Department of Citrus Executive Director Shannon Shepp focused Thursday on increased state funding for the industry, with a total of $17 million going to marketing in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

“There is work to do, but I know of no other industry more resilient, hardworking, or better suited for the job than ours,” Shepp said in a statement.

After recent forecasts showed Florida falling behind California in orange production, the new forecast put Florida back as the country’s top orange producer. The forecast for California this season remained at 52 million boxes.

Florida orange growers have struggled against residential and commercial development, foreign imports, hurricane impacts and citrus greening disease.

While seasonal fruit and vegetable dumping from Mexico and South American has been a concern for Florida farmers in recent years, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott on Wednesday urged the Biden administration to reverse a 2020 decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that let five varieties of citrus fruits be imported from China.

“The USDA’s decision continues to risk an increase in unfair trade competition by Chinese government-subsidized products and could be exposing domestic growers to a host of invasive pests and diseases,” the Florida Republican senators wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The senators contend the importation will “detrimentally impact American citrus producers,” noting Florida and the federal government “have invested hundreds of millions of dollars” to combat citrus greening.

“Continuing to allow citrus imports from China could further harm Florida’s citrus growers and risks undermining the progress that has been made through these investments,” the senators wrote.

The state’s $101 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes $27.7 million to support the industry.

In addition to the orange numbers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday also estimated Florida growers would produce enough grapefruit to fill 4.1 million boxes, down 100,000 boxes from the May forecast. It also projected 890,000 boxes of specialty crops, primarily tangerines and tangelos, down 10,000 from May.

In the 2019-2020 growing season, Florida produced 4.85 million boxes of grapefruit and 1.02 million boxes of specialty crops.

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