09/10/2017 | Ingles

U.S: Florida loses half of its orange crop

Hurricane Irma has devastated orange growers in Florida, with estimates suggesting half the current crop has been lost.

Growers are assessing steps moving forward, as they attempt to recover on the back of an already struggling industry, battling the effects of disease and softer demand. 

Quentin Roe, of Noble Citrus, said the Hurricane was the worst natural disaster orange growers had ever witnessed. "Hurricane Irma was truly devastating for Florida orange growers and we estimate that 50%-60% of the current crop was lost," he said. "It's the worst natural disaster the state's agricultural industry has witnessed in living memory. Production volumes have taken a huge hit but we won't know accurate assessments until the Department of Agriculture releases their figures later this month. At this stage, projections are for production to be 35,000,000-40,000,000 boxes this year, down from an original expectation of 72,000,000."

Recovery phase

Once Hurricane Irma had passed through and clean up was under way, orange growers assessed the damage and began planning a way forward. "At first, there was a 10-14 day waiting period for the trees to recover and adapt," Roe continued. "Once some stock that wasn't lost went to the  packing house, we also noticed wind scarring on some of the fruit. The main varieties that were affected were the early season varieties like Navel Hamlin, early tangerines and grapefruit. We are hoping that the later season varieties such as Valencias and late season tangerines will show less impact."

Florida orange growers are still struggling after years of battling disease, which has resulted in a shortage of oranges. For now, supplies look to be acutely short until the trees recover and the California season commences. "The Florida orange industry has been hit hard by Citrus Greening over the last decade. 12 years ago, the area of citrus in Florida was 850,000 and now that's down to about 350,000. The hurricane has made things worse and we're now seeing record high market prices. Hopefully that will ease when later varieties come into supply and also when the California season starts in November/December."

New citrus varieties giving hope to industry

It's hard to find any good news for orange and citrus producers in Florida, but Roe said that new varieties were being developed and growers have cause for excitement in the near future. 

"We have active breeding programs underway and new varieties are already being planted as we speak," he said. "Much like the apple industry regularly brings new varieties to market, so the same is occurring in Florida with new tangerine varieties. Fruit that caters to consumers' different flavor and sweetness preferences are in the works and we're very excited to be moving forward with bringing these varieties into the market. California has been setting the bar for years, but we feel we have an advantage due to the lower freight costs in Florida, being much closer to the East coast. The Florida growing window also begins earlier, so with these factors, there is great reason for optimism in the industry."

Source: freshplaza.com