Florida’s citrus industry struggles in wake of severe weather events and disease
It’s estimated the citrus industry in the Sunshine State employs more than 33,000 and is around a $6 billion industry
The production of citrus across Florida continues to struggle, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The agency’s annual June citrus forecast showed orange production slightly higher than May’s levels, but the year’s total output remained below recent years.
Experts say the industry has been hit hard by citrus greening and severe weather events that have caused production to remain at low levels.
The USDA forecast predicted 40.7 million boxes of oranges being harvested, compared to the five-year average estimate of 61.2 million boxes.
"Even though production is down from the prior season, this forecast is an encouraging sign for Florida citrus growers as we mark two consecutive months where the orange production forecast has increased slightly. Our producers have faced many challenges over the past decade, including the continued impact of citrus greening and severe weather events," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement.
In addition to oranges, the USDA expects grapefruit and tangerine harvests to come in below previous years.
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While impactful weather events have to been limited to a handful of freezes and Hurricane Irma of 2017, experts say citrus greening has shown no signs of slowing down.
According to the University of Florida, an Asian bug discovered in the states back in 1998 is now thriving and spreading a harmful disease amongst citrus crops.
Industry experts say once a plant becomes infected, its nutrient flow will slow and eventually impair its ability to produce fruit.
There is no cure for citrus greening, meaning that a tree with the disease will deteriorate until it dies.
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The state is one of the world’s largest citrus producers, employing more than 33,000 people and is responsible for more than 90 percent of the orange juice consumed in the U.S. annually.
A study by the University of Florida estimated the industry has an economic impact of more than $6.7 billion to the state.
And while experts say there are small signs of improvement, there isn’t enough time to turn production numbers around anytime soon.
Most major citrus operations are near the end of the harvest season and won’t start up in earnest again until the fall and winter.