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Hurricane Irma Blew Away Florida’s Chances for a Big Orange Crop

Florida was on track for its first increase in orange production in five years until Hurricane Irma pounded the state last month with the crop nearly ready for harvest. USDA’s Agricultural Statistics Board, in a rare statement, said the crop could have been 75.5 million boxes based on its survey work before the hurricane, instead of the 54 million boxes forecast afterward, the smallest crop since 1947.

“The greatest impact from Hurricane Irma appears to be increased fruit drop due largely to the high winds … a much higher percentage in fruit drop than in previous seasons,” said the ASB. Drop rates for navel and early to midseason oranges were 48% for the current crop, double the five-year average. For Valencia oranges, which account for 55% or more of the Florida crop, droppage after Irma was estimated at 45% compared with the average of 30%.

Florida Citrus Mutual, a grower organization, has said its survey of members indicated the crop could be as small as 31 million boxes, less than half of the potential crop. State officials have pegged citrus industry losses at $761 million and are pursuing federal relief.

“Recalculating crop size using the most recent five-year average percentage fruit drop rather than the October 2017 survey indicated percentage fruit drop would suggest a Florida orange production total of 75.5 million boxes as compared with the published forecast of 54 million boxes,” said the USDA board. It cautioned that it was difficult to gauge the exact impact of the hurricane; different assumptions about fruit size and droppage rates would produce different totals. Nonetheless, “the approximate impact can be implied because of the timing of the storm,” the board said.

Citrus greening disease, discovered in Florida in 2005, has devastated the industry. The 2003-2004 orange crop was 242 million boxes. The 2016-2017 crop was 68.75 million boxes.

FERN’s Ag Insider. Produced by FERN
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