- The December Citrus Forecast by the USDA maintains Florida’s orange production at 20.5 million boxes, including increases in grapefruit (26% rise to 1.9 million boxes) and tangerine (10% rise to 500,000 boxes)..
- The updated forecast signals a significant recovery for Florida’s citrus industry, with orange production expected to increase by nearly 25% compared to the previous year.
- Efforts to combat citrus greening, a significant threat to Florida’s citrus production, have been bolstered with a $5 million grant for the University of Florida to research disease-resistant citrus varieties.
December’s updated Citrus December Forecast for the current growing season holds steady, following the release of a new dataset by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday.
The latest citrus forecast mirrors the agency’s initial projection of 20.5 million boxes of oranges for Florida’s crop yield, which includes 7.50 million boxes of non-Valencia and 13.0 million boxes of Valencia oranges. The USDA also foresees 1.9 million boxes of Florida Grapefruit and 500,000 boxes of Florida Tangerines in the 2023-24 growing season.
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.
If estimates are met, it would represent an uptick in grapefruit production is up by 26 percent, totaling 1.9 million boxes, alongside a tangerine and tangelo production increase of 10 percent.
In a presentation given to the state Senate in February, the Florida Department of Citrus told lawmakers that more than 375,000 acres of commercial citrus farms faced difficulties due to hurricane or tropical storm-force winds, resulting in between $146.9 million and $304.3 million in production loss. Agency representatives also stated that between 8 and 11 percent of the state’s citrus trees were damaged or destroyed during hurricanes Ian and Nicole.
In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a piece of legislation known as the “Block Grant Assistance Act,” which aims to enhance the allocation of disaster relief funding for agricultural producers affected by natural calamities, potentially bringing millions to Florida citrus growers.
The bill, sponsored by all 28 delegates of Florida, proposed an amendment to the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to distribute assistance for agricultural losses from natural disasters like Hurricane Ian through block grants, replacing the direct disbursement of funds to individual producers.
Agricultural block grants are a form of financial assistance provided by the government to states and territories to support agricultural programs and initiatives. Instead of directly disbursing funds to individual agricultural producers, the government allocates a fixed amount of money as a block grant to eligible states. The states then have the flexibility to distribute these funds among agricultural producers based on their specific needs and priorities.
“It’s no secret that Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole left the heart of citrus country with a long road to recovery, but Florida growers have worked to recover from extreme weather before, and this year is no exception,” said the Florida Department of Citrus. “[We are] working alongside industry leaders and elected officials to help ensure Florida citrus growers have the assistance necessary while they continue to replant, rebuild, and work toward long-term solutions in the industry’s fight.”
In an attempt to ward off citrus greening, a crop disease, the University of Florida secured a total of $5 million from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in October to advance research preventative measures.
The allocation, divided into five grants, will support various research strategies to develop citrus varieties resistant or tolerant to greening, which has marred Florida’s growers with significant difficulties in crop production over the past decade. When a tree becomes infected, it produces fruits that remain green, become misshapen, and taste bitter.
Citrus greening has severely affected Florida’s multibillion-dollar citrus industry, leading to decreased yields and forcing many producers to uproot and replant entire orchards, thereby raising production costs.