TALLAHASSEE, FL. – Florida’s beleaguered citrus industry, now dealing with cold snaps, saw the forecast for this season’s orange crop drop another 2.25 percent on Wednesday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report that projected the state’s citrus growers will produce enough oranges to fill 43.5 million 90-pound boxes, the industry’s standard measurement. That was down from a January estimate of 44.5 million boxes and an estimate of 47 million boxes when the season’s first forecast was issued in October.
The new projection was the latest troubling sign for an industry that has been on a downward trajectory for nearly two decades because of deadly citrus greening disease and pressure from development.
Florida Department of Citrus Executive Director Shannon Shepp said growers continue to reinvest and replant as consumers have increased orange juice consumption the past couple of years for its health benefits.
“The grit and determination of Florida citrus growers does not waver,” Shepp said in a prepared statement. “They remain committed, in the face of known and unknown challenges, to providing high-quality and great-tasting Florida citrus and Florida orange juice to all who seek it out.”
But Sen. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican and citrus grower who previously chaired the Florida Citrus Commission, said Wednesday that “our industry is being decimated by (citrus greening) disease.”
The new forecast came after Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue a disaster declaration for counties affected by a recent freeze.
“Our farmers suffered significant losses after freezing temperatures damaged crops during a critical time in the harvesting season,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the federal agency said Wednesday it’s too early to determine how the cold weather will affect the crop.
Alico, Inc., a major Fort Myers-based citrus grower, withdrew previously issued financial guidance last week and said in a news release that it will update the guidance when it can determine the impact of the freeze.
“In the last week of January 2022, certain areas where the company’s citrus trees are located experienced below freezing conditions that are expected to have a material adverse effect on the yield of this season’s Valencia crop,” the Feb. 3 news release said. “The company is still in the process of assessing the extent of the damage and the expected impact on its current financial position, results of operations and cash flows and the extent to which there might be any expected long-term effects.”
In Wednesday’s forecast, grapefruit production remained at 4.1 million boxes, equal to the amount grown in the 2020-2021 season, which ended in July. Also, specialty fruits, mostly tangerines and tangelos, remain at 800,000 boxes. That is down from 900,000 boxes that had been projected at the start of the season.
— New Service Executive Editor Jim Saunders contributed to this report.