17-year decline in Florida citrus crop projected to continue
- The USDA forecast 57 million boxes of oranges to be harvested in 2020-21.
- The USDA also predicted a 7% decline in Florida grapefruit.
- Florida's 2020-21 crop of tangerines and tangelos projected to increase 8%, USDA says.
LAKELAND — The long-awaited revival of Florida citrus will have to wait as the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday forecast a further 15% decline in the orange harvest and a 7% decline in grapefruit for the 2020-21 season
In its initial seasonal forecast, the USDA projected Florida growers will produce just 57 million boxes of oranges this season, down from 67.3 million boxes last season.
Growers are projected to pick 23 million boxes of early and mid-season oranges, harvested from October to March. If accurate, that would represent a 22% decline from the 2019-20 harvest.
The USDA projected the Valencia orange harvest from March to June at 34 million boxes, down 10% from last season.
About 95% of Florida’s orange crop goes to juice.
The Valencia harvest is more important to Florida growers because those oranges fetch higher farm prices and because that variety is the primary orange in most of not-from-concentrate (NFC) orange juice products. Most of the NFC orange juice sold in the U.S. comes from Florida oranges.
The USDA estimated the 2020-21 grapefruit crop at 4.5 million boxes, down 7% from last season. More than 60% of the grapefruit crop goes to juice each year.
This season’s harvest of tangerines and tangelos is projected to increase 8% to 1.1 million boxes from 1.02 million boxes in 2019-20. About 70% of those varieties are sold as fresh fruit.
The ongoing declines in the state’s citrus harvest reflects the continuing impact of the fatal bacterial disease citrus greening, which was first discovered in Florida in the fall of 2005.
If the current orange harvest projection proves accurate, the Florida orange crop will have declined 76% since the state’s growers produced 242 million boxes in the 2003-04 season.
“Most of us assumed it would be lower. The fact is we’re fighting through citrus greening,” said Mike Sparks, the chief executive at Florida Citrus Mutual in Bartow, the interest group for the state’s growers, in a Zoom conference following release of the USDA report. “We’re fighting the most devastating disease in the history of Florida, the most devastating disease in citrus.”
The USDA forecast fell below Elizabeth Steger’s 62-million-box projection for the 2020-21 orange crop released in August, representing an 8.4% decline. The Daytona Beach-based consultant uses a different counting method than the USDA, but her annual August projection is followed widely in the Florida citrus industry.
The USDA will release monthly updates of the citrus forecast from December to July.
Kevin Bouffard can be reached at email@example.com or at 863-802-7591.