Citrus farmers concerned about the future of their industry

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Citrus farmer
Citrus farmer (Credit: WINK News)

Florida is the citrus state, but citrus farmers are struggling. In some cases, they sell the land because they don’t have enough money to maintain it.

Citrus farmers say there are several reasons why they are struggling. Increased input costs are a big problem, but right now, a bacteria called citrus greening disease is one of the most significant issues facing citrus farmers. Bugs spread it, and once it hits a tree, there’s no cure.

Wayne Simmons, the president and owner of LaBelle Fruit Company, said they are not only battling this disease but also fighting rising input costs.

The cost of fertilizer, pesticides and chemicals has increased, and production for these farmers is low.

Some citrus farmers in Southwest Florida said their production has dropped by more than 50% in the last five years.

To put it in perspective, Simmons said at one point, he was producing more than 400 boxes per acre. Now, he is making less than 150.

Citrus farmers are concerned that, along with rising input costs, the reduced production will force them out of the industry for good.

“We’re really at wit’s end trying to come up with a cure for nothing that’s been developed to cure no resistant varieties, no way to control the bug,” said Simmons. “Well, I’m going to still try and survive for another two years, three years, and then we’ll see what happens either out, sell out and sell my land for development, or I’ll find alternative use for it.”

Hurricane Irma also destroyed many crops, forcing some citrus farmers out of the industry. They said being a citrus farmer is more challenging and expensive than five, 10, or 15 years ago.

Farmers are losing money, and they’re losing a significant amount. Not only are they trying to save their trees from citrus greening disease, an illness that has no cure, but five years later, they’re still trying to recover from Hurricane Irma’s destruction on Southwest Florida’s crops.

“Because of the impact that Hurricane Irma had when it came through five years ago, we’re still feeling those effects on the trees. And once you get to a certain point where some growers, they, when their production is down, or cost is up, it gets to where it’s not a good business model anymore. And so they got to convert acres to other uses.” said Steve Smith, executive vice president of the Gulf Citrus Growers Association.

With so many issues to deal with now, citrus farmers are now wondering if they’re making enough of a profit to continue growing these crops.

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