Citrus crop shrinking at alarming rate

Florida's signature crop is melting away this season at an unprecedented rate.

For the second consecutive month, the Florida orange-harvest forecast for the 2015-2016 growing season was adjusted down by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

You would have to go back to 1963-1964 to find so small a crop. This one is being ravaged by the fatal bacterial disease citrus greening, which is endemic in the state's commercial groves. Infected trees are shedding fruit before harvest at record numbers.

A month ago the forecast was lowered to 74 million boxes (the standard measure in the citrus industry is by 90-pound boxes). This week, that figure was dropped to 69 million boxes.

The latest prediction represents a 72 percent drop from the seasonal production peak of 244 million boxes during the 1997-1998 season.

“It's essentially in free fall,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said.

“It is like 36 percent that we are figuring right now will fall off the trees. It is a record high,” said USDA statistician Mark Hudson, whose office is in the Orlando area. Hudson noted that the drop rate last season was 25.5 percent.


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