Since it was confirmed in Florida 25 years ago, citrus greening disease has slashed citrus production in the state by 75 percent and infected trees in Louisiana, Texas, and California. USDA researchers said on Thursday they have found a potential remedy that boosts a citrus tree’s natural resistance to disease, including citrus greening.
California, for decades the No. 2 grower, is roaring into the lead as the largest orange-producing state in the nation, said the Agriculture Department on Wednesday. It forecast an orange crop of 1.84 million tons in California this season, more than double Florida’s projected hurricane-damaged harvest of 720,000 tons.
Hurricanes Ian and Nicole pummeled Florida's orange groves this fall, resulting in the smallest orange crop since the 1937-38 season, according to a USDA estimate.
The U.S. orange crop will plunge to 3.88 million tons this year, down 12 percent from last season, said the USDA on Tuesday in its first forecast of the new crop. Both of the leading orange states would see large reductions: Florida down by 11 percent and California down by 13 percent.
Thanks to a huge decline in the Florida crop this season, California is running neck and neck with the Sunshine State as the top orange-producing state with the harvest season in its final weeks, said the USDA. California has expanded production in recent years while output in Florida, hit by the tree-killing citrus greening disease, has fallen steeply over the past two decades.
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.
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.
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.
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.