TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — This year, Florida’s citrus forecast will hit a 75-year low, according to predictions by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making it the lowest number of oranges grown in the state since the end of WWII.
The USDA published their seasonal forecast for U.S. citrus on Jan. 14, where they reported the state would only grow about 44.5 million boxes of oranges, with about 90 oranges per box. The last time the volume of fruit grown in Florida reached that level was the 1944 to 1945 growing season, when the state produced 42.3 million boxes of oranges.
Following USDA’s release of their citrus forecast, the Florida Department of Citrus released a statement on the state’s production levels.
“The disappointment of another decline in the forecast is hard to overstate. But so too is the determination of Florida’s Citrus growers who remain focused on delivering great-tasting and high-quality fruit while – simultaneously – seeking new solutions to citrus greening,” said Shelley Rossetter, assistant director of global marketing at the Florida Department of Citrus on Jan. 12.
The department also reported, “estimates for Florida specialty citrus are also down 100,000 boxes bringing the forecast to 800,000 boxes for the season.” The orange growing season typically runs from fall to the end of spring, October to July.
Compared to last year’s volume, the orange crop is expected to be about 8.3 million boxes short, spelling concern for the state fruit’s economic impact, especially as orange prices rise due to ongoing inflationary pressures.
Florida’s orange crops have been on a decline for over 20 years due to bacterial threats and other diseases impacting the state’s orange groves, called citrus greening. As early as the 1998 to 1999 growing season, Florida was reporting a decreased production of citrus. In 1999, FDOC reported production of citrus was down 18.1%, dropping from 303.9 million boxes to 248.8 million.
The following season, production rebounded 12.4%, but it didn’t last. From 2000 to 2001, production only increased 0.9%, and gross revenue from the state’s citrus was down almost 16%. From 2002 to 2003, production dropped again, by 14.3%. The trend continued for years, with rebounds, then declines year-by-year until 2013, when orange yields dropped consecutively until an increase in the 2018 to 2019 season.
In the 2018 to 2019 season, orange production grew from 44.95 million to 71.75 million, but again declined by the end of the next season in 2020. The production decreases continued each year, up to and including the current decline forecasted for the 2021 to 2022 season by the USDA.
If the USDA forecast is correct, it’ll be the first time in years that Florida produces fewer oranges than California.
Early forecasts by the FDOC in October reported a bigger decline than the USDA is forecasting for the year. While the USDA report predicted a 3% drop in citrus production, the FDOC is expecting a 10.5% decline.
NBC reporter Morgan Chesky reported that orange juice prices were also on the rise, along with oranges themselves, but it’s not just because of supply chain problems.
Like FDOC, industry experts are reporting the issue is citrus greening. The greening issue reduces the size of oranges, shrinking the supply for juicing and leading to higher prices as juice producers are forced to buy more oranges to meet the same volume of juice.