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USDA reduces size requirements for Florida citrus to help struggling growers

Hammered by Hurricane Irma, Florida citrus growers are being allowed to pack smaller oranges this season in the hopes of recouping some lost sales.

The Florida Citrus Administrative Committee requested the U.S. Department of Agriculture to relax size restrictions, and an interim rule was published Nov. 16.

The rule relaxes the minimum size requirements for oranges from 2-1/2 inches to 2-1/4 inches in diameter. The rule is effective Nov. 17, although the USDA is accepting comments on the rule until Jan. 16.

Although spurred by the September storm’s damage, the decision to allow the smaller fruit had been discussed by the state’s Citrus Administrative Committee before.

In June, the committee noted the decline in production from citrus greening, and a growing consumer preference for smaller fruit. The committee agreed in June the current minimum size should be relaxed in order to make additional fruit available for shipment.

A similar rule for grapefruit, which will be published separately, will provide additional fruit for shipment to the fresh market and increase returns to citrus growers and handlers, according to the USDA.

The USDA estimates the recommended relaxation in size for grapefruit and oranges could make an additional 20% to 25% of the crop available for shipment to the fresh market. 

That could mean an additional volume of 700,000 boxes of fresh citrus and boost industry revenues by $20 million in 2017-18, according to the interim rule.

In other citrus industry news, the Senate tax reform package proposed by the Senate Finance Committee would allow growers to immediately deduct replanting expenses for trees lost to storms.


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