Citrus production has trended downward for years, but it dropped abruptly, by 20 percent, in the just-ended 2017/18 season, affected greatly by Hurricane Irma in Florida, said the USDA in its annual Citrus report.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a $340 million block grant to Florida on Tuesday to help citrus growers recover from Hurricane Irma, which hit the state just as the fruit was ready for harvest. The grant is part of $2.36 billion in disaster relief approved by Congress to help nine states that suffered hurricane or wildfire damage last year.
Hurricane Irma pummeled Florida’s citrus crop in September, and now a hard freeze is possible in the northeastern portion of the citrus belt, says weather consultancy Radiant Solutions.
The $81-billion disaster bill written by House Republicans includes $3.8 billion in disaster relief for farmers and ranchers, with Florida expected to get a large part of the money.
The USDA cut its estimate of Florida’s orange crop for the second time in two months, raising the possibility that California will be the No. 1 orange grower in the country this season.
Florida, the largest citrus-growing state in the nation, will harvest less than three-fourths as many oranges as last year because of damage from Hurricane Irma, said the USDA. In its monthly crop report, the agency estimated orange production at 50 million boxes, 9-percent less than it estimated a month ago and 27-percent less than the 2016/17 crop of 68.75 million boxes.
Citing damage to the citrus industry, 23 of Florida's 27 U.S. representatives signed a letter to House leaders asking for $1.5 billion in disaster funds for the state's agricultural industry. Some farm leaders hope the aid will be part of a funding bill to keep the federal government operating past this Friday, when short-term funding runs out.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which ravaged Florida's orange crop, "seem to have had little effect on vegetable prices," says USDA's Vegetable and Pulses Outlook. The storms arrived early in the planting season for so-called winter vegetables, "primarily causing a delay in plantings," according to USDA economists.
Florida was on track for its first increase in orange production in five years until Hurricane Irma pounded the state last month with the crop nearly ready for harvest. USDA's Agricultural Statistics Board, in a rare statement, said the crop could have been 75.5 million boxes based on its survey work before the hurricane, instead of the 54 million boxes forecast afterward, the smallest crop since 1947.
The USDA estimated a 21 percent drop in Florida orange production this season following damage from Hurricane Irma a month ago. State officials said losses were far worse and a farm group, Florida Citrus Mutual, said its survey of growers indicated losses exceeding 50 percent.
The one-two punch of Hurricane Harvey on Gulf coast and Hurricane Irma in the Southeast reduced the U.S. cotton crop by more than 600,000 bales, or 3 percent, said the USDA in its monthly crop report. The USDA lowered its estimate of the harvest in Texas, the No. 1 cotton state, and in No. 2 Georgia, down by 300,000 bales apiece.
Crop insurance is a popular safeguard for row-crop farmers, but “a lot of the nation’s vegetables and fruit crops aren’t covered,” says Bloomberg in an examination of crop insurance data in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. “Only 34 percent of vegetable acreage [is] covered, and many less common products are not covered by the program at all.”
With agricultural losses from Hurricane Irma expected to run into billions of dollars, the head of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) says the industry will lobby for federal relief, reports The Packer. "Hurricane Irma left Sunshine State citrus groves with dropped fruit, standing water and dashed hopes," said the trade publication, while tomato, strawberry and vegetable growers "came through the storm in comparatively better shape."
Florida, the No. 1 citrus-growing state in the nation, suffered "serious and devastating losses from Hurricane Irma," said state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam after an aerial tour of groves in central and southwest Florida. The harvest season for oranges and grapefruit normally begins in October, so the storm arrived as the fruit was nearing maturity.
Cotton growers are headed for the largest cotton harvest in 12 years, said USDA's monthly crop report, although officials acknowledged they don't have a full picture of damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck much of the Cotton Belt. The USDA said it would conduct special surveys in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina to assess how much of the cotton, rice, peanut and soybean crops were harvested.
Hurricane Irma, which could become the costliest storm in U.S. history, is threatening $1.2 billion worth of agricultural production in Florida, the No. 2 produce grower in the country and “the top ... grower of fresh tomatoes, oranges, green beans, cucumbers, squash, and sugarcane,” says AgWeb.