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.
This number, however, is probably far short of actual infections as these finds represent the result of surveys being conducted to determine the outer parameters impacted. When a discovery is made, the survey moves five miles out to look for more — so far the distance from the original discovery is 130 miles and growing.
Officials with USDA and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Plant Industry are moving with all due haste to establish best management practices for growers. There are some scientists who already believe that it is too late for eradication and that control methods are going to be the only hope growers have for living with the “yellow dragon” disease.
In the midst of news that is nothing short of grim, the marketplace for Florida orange juice has begun to show signs of a recovery in the making.
The Department of Citrus is in the process of testing a series of new television commercials. This campaign, like the current one, will be targeted to adults 35 years or older with a common sense approach to health and nutrition.
Though the creative is softer in its approach, the health and wellness message is not much changed and continues to reflect the marketing strategy of the DOC.