Florida’s citrus industry continues to be squeezed, as it now uses less than half of the amount of land that it used in 2000, according to reports released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Commercial citrus land totaled 407,348 acres, down 3 percent from 2020 and 51 percent less than the 832,275 acres available in 2000. Also, the reports said, “the $579 million preliminary on-tree value of the 2020-2021 citrus crop is 17 percent less than the $696 million revised value for 2019-2020.”
Florida growers during the past two decades have faced pressure from residential and commercial development, foreign imports, changing drinking habits and citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease. DeSoto County has the most citrus acres at 66,638, followed by 63,328 acres in Polk County, 57,900 acres in Hendry County and 56,850 acres in Highlands County. Seminole County, with 216 acres of commercial citrus trees, up from 215 last year, was the only county to report an increase in acreage. Two years ago, Seminole County had 302 acres in production.
The federal agency said orange trees accounted for 372,354 acres, with valencia oranges making up 60 percent of that land. Grapefruit acreage, predominantly in parts of Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties, fell by 11 percent to 19,908 acres in the past year.
The number of citrus trees — orange, grapefruit and specialty crops — was estimated at 59.7 million, down 1.4 percent from the previous season when there were an estimated 60.57 million trees. The 2020-2021 growing season ended in July with Florida farmers producing enough oranges — mostly for orange juice — to fill 52.8 million 90-pound boxes, the industry standard.
During the previous season, growers produced 67.3 million boxes. Twenty-five years ago, Florida produced 203.3 million boxes of oranges.