Agency points to a ‘win' as citrus season nears end

Florida’s citrus industry is wrapping up its harvest with totals that at least top the past two seasons.

Numbers released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture continued to show slight decreases from earlier forecasts for the 2018-2019 citrus growing season. However, with nearly the entire harvest completed, the industry maintains things are positive for growers who have struggled in recent years with issues such as citrus greening and Hurricane Irma.

“Considering steep fluctuations in previous seasons, getting through to this part of the season with relatively stable numbers is a win,” Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said in a prepared statement.

The new forecast estimates Florida growers this year will produce enough oranges to fill 71.4 million 90-pound boxes, the industry standard, a 1.4 percent decrease from the May forecast. However, the number is up nearly 59 percent from the 2017-2018 crop, which was devastated by Hurricane Irma, and is 3.7 percent better than two seasons ago.

Grapefruit in Florida is now forecast to fill 4.51 million boxes, down from a 4.58 million-box estimate in May. When the season began, the forecast anticipated 6.7 million boxes. Two seasons ago, grapefruit growers filled 7.76 million boxes.

Specialty fruit, mostly tangerines and tangelos, account for another 990,000 boxes in the latest monthly forecast, down from 1 million in May and down from the 1.2 million boxes anticipated when the season kicked off.

Mark Hudson, a state statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said 96 percent of the orange crop has been harvested, based on field counts conducted May 29 and May 30.

“It’s wrapping up very quickly,” he said. Florida lawmakers have included $8 million for research into citrus disease in the state’s proposed budget (SB 2500) for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to act on the budget next week.