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After effects of Irma to hurt Florida's citrus and orange juice industry

Hurricane Irma plundered Florida’s orange belt, leaving a trail of uprooted trees, downed fruit and flooded groves worse than anything growers say they have seen in more than 20 years.

The most recent estimates of the widespread damage to Florida’s orange trees put the statewide losses as high as 70 percent. That could lead to orange shortages, price hikes and, for farmers, lost harvests — all on top of a debilitating plant disease called citrus greening and a long-term national decline in orange juice consumption.

“Significant is not the right word,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the growers’ group Florida Department of Citrus, describing the damage to Florida’s orange juice industry. “It’s somewhere between significant and catastrophic.”

Ellis Hunt Jr.'s family is one example of the devastation. The family has been in the Florida citrus business for almost 100 years. He has 5,000 acres of citrus trees, and a lot of these trees were badly damaged.

"The pictures don't do it justice. When you stand there and you physically smell the stagnant water and the rotting grass and the fruits laying in the water and it's a whole crop that was weeks away from being ready to harvest and all the time and effort and dollars that went into raising that crop are lost, it's devastating," Ellis Hunt Jr. told NPR in an interview.

"Beyond just the loss of this fruit and the effect on the grower, it's the jobs for all these employees, the citrus industry employees - close to 46,000 people - and that trickle-down effect where it's immediate for those people. So this is impacting 46,000 lives and their communities."

Orange Juice
The hurricane is also expected to hurt another long struggling industry in Florida, orange juice. According to the Department of Agriculture, the average American drinks 23.74 pounds of orange juice per year, or roughly an ounce each day, more than any other fruit. 

California and Texas also grow oranges, but Florida is the source of most of the fruit that makes its way into orange juice. Ninety percent of the state’s $1 billion annual harvest is eventually processed into OJ, according to the industry group Florida Citrus Mutual.

Publication date: 9/25/2017


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