( File photo )

With low citrus production due to citrus greening disease compounded by Hurricane Irma’s damage in 2017, Florida citrus growers are asking for approval to lower size and grade standards to sell more on the fresh market.

Acting on a request from the Florida Citrus Administrative Committee, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing changes to grade and size requirements for Florida oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and pummelos.

The changes would “allow growers and handlers to use more of the crop to meet market demand,” according to a news release from the USDA.

According to the Federal Register notice on the changes, from the 2011-12 season to the 2016-17 season, citrus greening, aka huanglongbing (HLB), cut Florida orange production 53% and tangerine production by 67%. Fresh shipments of oranges dropped 54% and tangerines dropped 80% in that time frame.

The changes, according to the USDA, would:

  • Revise minimum grades for oranges and tangerines from a U.S. No. 1 to a U.S. No.2 (bringing an extra 300,000 cartons to fresh market);
  • Remove grade and size requirements for Ambersweet and Temple oranges (according to the USDA, production of those crops last season were 4,280 cartons and 40,227 cartons respectively);
  • Consolidate varieties for oranges and grapefruit into one classification category for each; and
  • Make a similar consolidation for grapefruit imported into the U.S., without changing grade/size requirements.

Comments on the proposal are due by Nov. 18.