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USDA lowers estimate for Florida citrus

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cut its estimate for the Florida orange crop to 50 million boxes, down from the 54 million boxes predicted last month.

Growers have declared such numbers unrealistic, reporting they expect the crop to be between 30 million and 40 million boxes. Numerous companies lost at least half their crops to the storm, and they expected fruit to continue to drop because of the trauma the trees suffered in the high winds.

Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, alluded to those perspectives in his statement on the new estimate from the USDA.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the last decrease we see,” Shepp said in a news release. “Hurricane Irma had widespread impact on our industry, and growers are still trying to pick up the pieces. High winds and flooding rains damaged already weakened trees, making it even more difficult to hold on to the fruit that’s left.”

Florida agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam voiced a similar opinion.

“Today’s lowered forecast shows that the damage to Florida citrus from Hurricane Irma is still unfolding, and it will continue to for some time," Putnam said in a news release. "Florida’s growers need support and they need it fast. I will continue to work with (Florida Gov. Rick Scott) and leaders in Washington to get Florida’s growers the support and relief they need to rebuild as quickly as possible.”

Losses to the Florida citrus industry due to Irma are upwards of $760 million, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The USDA noted in its report that Florida growers have begun harvesting — primarily for the fresh market — Fallglo tangerines, red and white grapefruit, and ambersweet, navel, hamlin and early gold oranges.

If the orange crop did come in at 50 million boxes, that would be a 27% decrease from the 2016-17 crop. If the grapefruit crop is as predicted at 4.65 million boxes, that would be a 40% decrease from last season. The forecast of 950,000 boxes of Florida tangerines and mandarins represents a 41% decrease from 2016-17.

USDA estimates for citrus production in California and Texas were unchanged.

This story is from the Packer.