- Florida’s citrus industry is facing severe challenges due to Greening disease and extensive damage caused by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, resulting in production decreases of up to 100 percent in some areas.
- Promised federal aid for agricultural disasters remains largely undispersed to Florida growers, further exacerbating the industry’s struggles.
- Current aid may also be insufficient to address the state’s disaster aid needs.
Speaking to the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, Florida Citrus Mutual CEO Matt Joyner shed light on the struggling state of Florida’s citrus industry, which has been grappling with continuously decreasing production outputs.
Greening, a disease that affects citrus plants, has been a significant contributor to the sector’s decline, and this past season was described by Joyner as “the roughest season any producer can ever remember.” The sentiment was exacerbated by the extensive damages brought forth by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, which caused an approximate 60 percent downturn in production.
“We’ve been desperate for some sort of aid to help this industry recover as a result of Ian and Nicole,” Joyner told Senate lawmakers. “All those producers who were hit by that storm, most of them probably averaged 60-something percent losses, but a lot of them right up to 100 percent in a lot of areas. They invested over $2,000 an acre to set a crop that never got off the tree.”
The industry hardships are further compounded by challenges in receiving promised federal aid. For example, an omnibus ratified in December which earmarked $3.7 billion for agricultural disasters across the country has yet to disperse funds to Florida growers, per Joyner. He further explained that standing programs written into the Farm Bill that should have been helping producers months ago but have not yet done so, including the Environmental Conservation Program, which helps growers with cleanup costs.
“[Growers] were told that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would waive a lot of the requirements to move that money faster,” said Joyner. “To my knowledge, there are a handful of my growers that just this past month have received some checks, but by and large, all that money is still waiting for USDA to process through FSA offices here in the state.”
Joyner also indicated that the existing funds, even if disbursed, would likely be insufficient to address the disaster aid needs across the nation.
Despite the industry setback, Joyner struck a note of optimism, rooted in both grower-subsidized and state-allocated research, which has reportedly shown promising early results. Recent treatments appear to be having a positive impact, with improved tree health and larger fruit sizes, according to Joyner.
“Those therapies have been deployed now. Growers have tools and we’re seeing the results in the growth,” he said. “The fruit is sizing up, early quality tests … show the fruit is good, we’re very optimistic about our ability to maintain tree health.”
Last week, the USDA issued its initial forecast for the 2023-24 citrus season, projecting an uptick in production from Florida growers following one of its worst fruit yields in a century last year. During an information briefing, USDA principal statistician Mark Hudson delivered a production estimate for the state at 20.5 million boxes of Florida Oranges, 1.9 million boxes of Florida Grapefruit, and 500,000 boxes of Florida Tangerines.
The forecast shows a nearly 25 percent expected increase in productivity compared to the year prior, when growers produced 15.85 million boxes of oranges, down from 41.2 million boxes during the 2021-2022 season. Looking towards the turn of the century, typical annual production figures topped 200 million boxes of oranges and about 50 million boxes of grapefruit.
“Today’s Citrus Crop Forecast helps strengthen our industry’s faith in the future of Florida Citrus and is a further testament to growers’ determination and ingenuity as we see a slight upswing in production,” said Shannon Shepp, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Citrus (FDoC). “The foundation of this industry is its ability to adapt, overcome, and evolve in our treatments and protections against prolonged challenges stemming from extreme weather and citrus greening.”