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Florida's citrus forecast takes another hit

Jessica Meszaros
WUSF Public Media

Florida’s citrus industry continues to see production squeezed, as a new forecast dropped the projected orange crop for the current growing season by 3%, with specialty fruits down 11%.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday updated its outlook by projecting Florida growers would produce enough oranges to fill 44.5 million 90-pound boxes, the common industry measurement. The forecast was down from a projection of 46 million boxes in December.

The federal agency had initially projected Florida growers would produce enough oranges for 47 million boxes during the current season, after 52.8 million boxes were filled during the 2020-2021 season.

Most of Florida’s oranges are processed into orange juice.

Meanwhile, the new forecast is for 800,000 boxes of specialty fruits, mostly tangerines and tangelos. That is down from 900,000 boxes that had been projected since the start of the season.

Grapefruit projections remained at 4.1 million boxes, equal to the amount grown in the 2020-2021 season, which ended in July.

Growers two decades ago produced about 200 million boxes of oranges a year and about 50 million boxes of grapefruit, before citrus greening disease ravaged the industry, which already faced pressure from development and a change in drinking habits.

The current projections would put this year’s orange crop on par with numbers produced during World War II, with 42.23 million boxes during the 1944-1945 season and 45.5 million boxes the prior year.

Florida’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 included $27.7 million to support the citrus industry, with the biggest chunks going to marketing and research.

As part of his proposed budget for next fiscal year, Gov. Ron DeSantis has requested $15 million for marketing, $8 million for research and $6.2 million for the Citrus Health Response Program.

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