USDA lowers citrus estimate in Florida

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"Citrus growers are facing their lowest production since Franklin Roosevelt was president", Buchanan, a co-chairman of the Florida delegation, said in a prepared statement.

Irma destroyed more than 50 percent of this season's oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and tangelos. The citrus industry already was struggling with deadly citrus greening disease before Hurricane Irma devastated many groves in September. The hurricane blew fruit off the tree and caused widespread tree damage.

Probably to nobody's surprise in the Florida citrus sector, the latest crop estimate from USDA comes with a footnote of historic significance - of the dubious kind.

The Ledger reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture reduced the projected Florida orange harvest to 46 million boxes, an 8 percent decline from the agency's November estimate.

The USDA said early, mid-season, and navel varieties in Florida are forecast at 19 million boxes, down 10% from November and off 42% from last season. According to the December crop estimate, Florida will produce 2.07 million tons of oranges in 2017-18, slightly more than the 1.84 million tons of oranges forecast in California. "As I said, we are still settling cases from Matthew, so it's nonstop".

The Ledger reports that when Florida will recover as the major supplier of orange juice to the USA market depends on when the state's citrus trees will return to pre-Irma production.

Following Hurricane Irma, more than 7,500 complaints were placed with Florida's price gouging hotline complaining about inflated prices on water, gas, hotels, and more. That was growers' experience following the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes.

"This is exactly what we thought would happen as the true damage begins to rear its ugly head in the groves across Florida", said Michael Sparks, executive vice-president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's largest grower organisation. Those numbers are expected to grow as the season continues.

That figure does not include other fixed costs, such as capital expenses; land costs, such as a mortgage; and other management inputs.

"That is exactly why the Florida citrus industry is shrinking - they (growers) can not afford the cost of staying in business", he said.

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