Hurricane Irma continues to challenge Florida’s citrus industry. Two growing seasons separated from the September 2017 storm that flooded groves and uprooted citrus trees across the state, the industry has seen production rebound quicker than some anticipated.
But now the problem is an oversupply of citrus because of fruit from other countries, and Florida growers may be forced to allow some of their crops to hit the ground without being harvested. Juice processors did not expect Florida citrus production to return to the level seen just before Irma and signed three- and five-year supply deals with growers from countries including Mexico and Brazil.
Those contracts have left Florida growers, who had faced more than a decade of declining production, facing a market glut.
“It is dire. This is real,” Senate Agriculture Chairman Ben Albritton said this week. “This will be the season, not the season as in a single season, but a stretch, a season of time, that whoever is going to survive in the citrus business will come out the other end,” Albritton said. “And there is going to be a lot of people that don’t. And that’s a fact.”
Hurricane Irma pounded the state from the Keys to Jacksonville and caused major damage in key citrus-growing areas. The hurricane came as industry officials were starting to express cautious optimism after a decade of seeing production numbers decrease because of issues such as citrus-greening disease, development pressure and changes in drinking habits.
In October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast that the 2019-2020 growing season, which will run until July, will have a 3.3 percent increase in production from the past season. The forecast indicates orange production would be up 64 percent from the storm-ravaged 2017-2018 season, with grapefruit production up 18.6 percent in the same time.