Florida citrus ends worst season since 1940s

Lee Herald Favicon 16In the last forecast update of the 2018 Florida citrus season, Florida Orange production ended at 44.95 million boxes and Florida Grapefruit at 3.880 million boxes, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The June forecast was unchanged from May, but that’s hollow comfort for the state’s signature crop’s production.

“This brings a very difficult citrus season to a close,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus in a prepared statement. “We look forward to a quiet, resilient season in the fall.”

Tuesday’s report brings an end to a tumultuous year, highlighted by the devastation brought by the 2017 hurricane season. Florida growers reported 30 to 70 percent crop loss after hurricane Irma made landfall on September 10, with the southwest region of Florida receiving the most damage – with Collier County directly under the eye.

Irma’s destruction was just another blow for the state’s citrus industry, long besieged by falling crop harvests due to diseases such as citrus greening which kills trees and has no cure.

“Protecting Florida’s citrus industry has been a top priority of Governor Scott’s,” said Ashley Cook, Press Secretary for Governor Rick Scott. “Following last year’s devastating hurricane season, Governor Scott has called and met with federal officials, state partners and leaders in our state’s agricultural industry to ensure Florida’s citrus growers are receiving the federal help they need to fully recover.”

In October, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced that Florida Citrus sustained more than $760 million in damages due to Hurricane Irma. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed federal disaster recovery relief as part of a larger spending bill in February. In April, the USDA announced it will begin implementing disaster payments of up to $2.36 billion in response to 2017 hurricanes and wildfires.

Before Irma, preliminary forecasts called for the state to product 75 million 90-pound boxes of citrus. During the 2017 hurricane season, trees were uprooted, which left many growers’ farms under water for up to three weeks, potentially damaging root systems and decreasing production. After Irma, that number fell to 54 million,

“The state has taken immediate steps to aid this iconic industry,” Cook said.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam used the word “horrible” to describe the 2018 growing season, but like Scott’s office, touted the federal aid as important relief for the state’s citrus farmers. Along with Florida’s congressional delegation, Putnam and Scott were active in calling for aid.

“While today’s final citrus crop forecast brings this horrible season to a close, it’s important to remember that the industry is still recovering from Hurricane Irma’s unprecedented damage last year,” Putnam said in a prepared statement. “Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the United States Department of Agriculture, Florida’s agriculture industry and our elected leaders, much-needed disaster assistance is on the way to help Florida’s growers.”

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