Over the past month, the mix between good and bad news for the citrus industry continues to represent business as usual.
The official U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast, released Oct. 12, estimates Florida will produce 190 million boxes of oranges for the 2005-06 citrus season. This represents a 27 percent increase, or 40 million boxes more than last season.
Though the forecast reflects a strong recovery from the damages of the hurricanes of last summer and the loss of production to canker, the recovery falls short of the 2003-04 season, which saw orange production of 242 million boxes. Nevertheless, growers are cautiously optimistic that a crop of this size will generate decent returns.
The number of boxes for grapefruit has nearly doubled over last season, which suffered devastating losses from the hurricanes. For the 2005-06 season, it is projected that Florida will produce 24 million boxes, up 88 percent over the 2004-05 season. With the exception of last year’s 12.8 million boxes, this would be the lowest crop since the 1944-45 season.
But, there is some industry concern that the forecasters might not have been able to predict the effects of canker going forward.
“We have always built attrition into the model — this year the effects of canker are included as are all other factors. But, we will monitor canker very closely and if necessary we can adjust our bearing tree numbers,” said Bob Terry of the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service. “Historically, we have not changed the tree count during the season, but we have the capability and will do so if necessary.”
The very presence of canker is on-going bad news, but the number of positive discoveries has been down.
In addition to the $53.75 million from the USDA in emergency funding to help accelerate the eradication effort is the $200 million the department has made available for canker compensation for commercial grove loss. While the $200 million is short of the amount needed to compensate all those who have experienced losses due to canker, it is certainly a good start. What is equally significant is the atmosphere in Washington that continues to support both eradication and compensation.
The discovery of Huanglongbing — more commonly referred to as citrus greening — in south Florida in early September may represent the worst news the industry has ever received. And, it isn’t getting any better. Since the initial three positive finds were identified, the number has climbed at alarming rates. In mid-October, the number of confirmed trees positive for citrus greening was 173 with an additional 31 suspects.