The latest citrus forecast shows more problems for the state’s citrus industry.
Final projections for the 2016-2017 citrus season released this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows orange production down 16 percent from last year with the grapefruit harvest down 28 percent.
Last year’s citrus production was the worst in five decades.
According to the USDA, citrus growers harvested 68.9 million boxes of oranges this year and 7.8 million boxes of grapefruit. A box holds 90 pounds of citrus.
To provide some comparison, Florida growers produced 244 million boxes of oranges 20 years ago.
A variety of problems are to blame.
Citrus growers have been fighting a deadly citrus disease called citrus greening.
“The future of Florida citrus, and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports, is wholly dependent on the discovery of a silver bullet in the fight against greening,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a prepared statement. “Florida’s brightest minds are making progress toward a solution, but until then, we must continue to support our growers and provide them every tool available to combat this devastating disease.” Citrus greening is an incurable disease spread by insects. Once infected, a commercial tree usually dies in five years, whereas a healthy tree can produce fruit up to 50 years.
The industry also faces the threat of encroachment by residential development, as well as problems posed by drought.
One positive sign in this year’s final projections is an increase in the number of boxes of tangerines and tangelos. The specialty crop produced 1.62 million boxes, that’s up from last year’s all-time low of 1.415 boxes.
Florida’s citrus industry has seen a steady decline in overall production through the years.
A decade ago Florida accounted for nearly three-fourths of all orange production in the U.S. Today, that figure has dropped to 58 percent.
While Florida is still the top producer, second-place California is steadily closing the gap producing nearly 41 percent of the orange crop in the U.S.
The new citrus season begins in October, but the expectations aren’t too promising. The Florida Citrus Department is proposing a reduction in its budget to reflect what is expected to be another 10 percent reduction in the state’s citrus crop next year.