New Year’s Day means a mid-day kickoff for college football fans, especially supporters of the Iowa Hawkeyes and Tennessee Volunteers. Those teams play in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, with hopes of adding another win to their season.
But for some farmland owners who have built their lives on the future of the citrus industry, their minds aren’t on football. Two opponents – citrus greening and Hurricane Ian – have ravaged trees across Florida. That leaves them with concerns for the future and creates opportunities for growers in other areas, including Georgia.
RELATED: Florida’s decades-long slide in orange production has allowed California to replace it as the nation’s top-producing state. This Growing Produce report from 2021 laid out the factors as California producers were making their move. Read that here.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its 2023-2024 citrus growing season forecast, which reflects a little optimism for growers, but we need to keep that optimism in perspective. Florida’s expected orange crop is significantly better than last year but still far behind previous years.
The increased production expectations concern grapefruit and specialty fruits like tangerines and tangelos. Orange production’s future remains unchanged. Unfortunately.
Compared to the USDA October forecast, the December forecast increased Florida’s expected grapefruit production by 26% and tangerine/tangelo production by 10%.
For the state’s production of oranges, the USDA Agricultural Statistics Board predicted 20.5 million boxes, unchanged from the October forecast. The optimism came with this next prediction, “If realized, this will be 30 percent more than last season’s final production. The forecast consists of 7.50 million boxes of non-Valencia oranges (early, mid-season, and Navel varieties) and 13.0 million boxes of Valencia oranges.”
RELATED: Read the USDA 2023-2024 citrus forecast here. The hope is that the 30% orange increase reflects positive movement for the industry as it tries to recover from citrus greening and hurricane damage.
The USDA provides this information about citrus greening:
Citrus greening -- (Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus) is one of the most serious citrus plant diseases in the world. It is also known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease. Once a tree is infected, there is no cure. While the disease poses no threat to humans or animals, it has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops throughout the United States and abroad. Citrus greening is spread by a disease-infected insect, the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri Kuwayama or ACP) and has put the future of America's citrus at risk. Infected trees produce fruits that are green, misshapen, and bitter, unsuitable for sale as fresh fruit or for juice. Most infected trees die within a few years.
RELATED: One grower said that it is now three times as costly to care for citrus crops because of citrus greening’s impact. Listen to the WMFE Public Radio story here.
How devastating have citrus greening and Hurricane Ian’s wrath (hit Florida in 2022, the strongest storm to hit the state since Hurricane Michael in 2018) been for Florida’s citrus industry?
Southwest Florida’s public radio and television affiliate, WGCU, included this perspective about the damage: “… the overall forecast total for 2023-2024 is just over half the production amount from the 2021-2022 season. Also, the projected total remains closer to production in the 1930s than in the 1990s, before citrus greening began to ravage groves and development pressures exploded for land.”
Florida politicians are pledging more money to help the industry recover and develop more disease-resisted practices.
Meanwhile, Georgia growers, known more for their peaches, are increasing their citrus production.
RELATED: WSBTV in Atlanta aired this story on citrus production in Georgia that has exploded over the past decade. Watch that story here.