Figures released Wednesday confirmed Florida’s 2022-23 citrus season was the worst in nearly a century as growers struggled to recover from an early-season hurricane that exacerbated the industry’s problems.
The USDA on Wednesday released its final report showing a sharp drop in production compared to the 2021-2022 season. The industry would have to go back to the 1929-1930 season to find comparable numbers.
In the 2022–2023 season Producers produced 15.85 million cases of oranges, compared to 41.2 million cases in the 2021/22 season, which in itself indicates a continued decline in production. Just over two decades ago, annual production was in excess of 200 million cases of oranges and 50 million cases of grapefruit.
In the 2022–2023 season Producers produced 1.81 million boxes of grapefruit compared to 3.33 million boxes in the 2021-2022 season. The state also produced 480,000 cases of specialty crops, mostly tangerines and tangelos, up from 750,000 cases in 2021-22. The industry uses the 90 lb box standard.
Chances of recovery may be two to three years from now as new plantings take root and surviving trees recover from the stress of Hurricane Ian last fall.
But growers are hoping ongoing testing will help make the trees resistant to the citrus greening disease that has ravaged groves for two decades. In addition, they are looking for federal disaster relief money to start rolling in.
“There will always be pressure from development and other things. alternative cultures. Alternative land use. But we still have almost 400,000 acres of citrus in the state of Florida. It’s a huge footprint,” said Matt Joyner, CEO of Bartow-based Florida Citrus Mutual.
“I’m not sure, other than maybe pasture land, any other single commodity probably has more,” Joyner added. “So, there is a lot of room for recovery in this industry as we continue to learn how to grow in a sustainable (disease) environment.”
Hurricane Yan made landfall in late September in southwest Florida and crossed the state through key citrus growing areas. But the industry was already buckling under development pressure, foreign imports and citrus landscaping, and the forecast for the start of the season suggested a fall in production as “fruits per tree” declined.
Yang caused up to $675 million in damage to citrus groves, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Human Services.
Between 9 and 11 percent of Florida’s 55 million citrus trees were lost during the storm, with the effects of the flood still being felt on the trees that stood.
“Producers are planting right now, but you’ll see it accelerate if we get this federal aid across the finish line,” Joyner said.
Members of the Florida congressional delegation continue to push for a block grant to distribute aid to citrus growers. The money will come from a $1.7 trillion consolidated spending bill passed in December that includes $3.742 billion in crop and livestock losses across the country in 2022, as well as an upcoming farm bill.
The measure, which was recently passed by the US House of Representatives and is pending a decision by the US Senate, gives the USDA the authority to issue block grants.
Florida’s 2023-2024 budget, effective July 1, increases funding for various aspects of the citrus industry from $37 million to $65 million. The bulk, $49.5 million, will go to citrus protection and research, including large-scale field trials on trees resistant to huanglongbing, the official name for citrus gardening.