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California citrus farmers face economic headwinds

California citrus producers are facing an array of hurdles in production costs, export headwinds and regulatory restraints that they fear could stymie their industry. The swelling costs of farm labor, regulatory compliance and the battle against citrus disease are projected to potentially top $200 million annually, or $700 yearly per acre of California citrus trees, according to a producer-sponsored assessment authored by Bruce Babcock, professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Production has shifted to the West Coast, and USDA projects California’s 2018 citrus harvest will account for 59 percent of the country’s orange, tangerine, mandarin, grapefruit and lemon crops overall. Since 2008, and despite four years of persistent drought, the total California citrus crop volume has risen 8 percent.

Nonetheless, “We’re in a serious problem here,” says California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen. “What has exploded – and there’s a lot of frustration about it – is all of the requirements, fees, permits, all of the things controlled out of Sacramento [the state capital]."


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