The Florida Citrus Commission (FCC) on June 21 set a preliminary 2017-18 Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) operating budget of $17.5 million. That’s a 22 percent reduction from last season and the lowest FDOC budget in decades.
The final budget will be set after the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues the first Florida citrus crop forecast of the new season in October. Much of the budget is funded by a per-box tax on Florida-grown citrus. The FCC, whose members are appointed by Florida’s governor, serve as the governing board of the FDOC.
The budget was based on estimates of 61.65 million boxes of oranges and 7.02 million boxes of grapefruit being produced in Florida in the 2017-18 season. FCC Chairman Ellis Hunt Jr. discusses the budget and reasons he is optimistic it may increase based on what he sees and hears about grove conditions.
“Hopefully that number’s (production estimate) going to be higher, which would be very helpful,” Hunt says. “In general, people I’ve talked to believe that we did not have the PFD (postbloom fruit drop) this year. We’re hopeful that a lot of the newer production techniques are going to make a difference. That would be a wonderful blessing if we could get back to approach 70 million boxes (of oranges).”
Hunt and another citrus commissioner said the FDOC needs to remain strong for when the citrus industry emerges “on the other side” of the HLB crisis that has devastated crops and trees for 12 years. “I do feel there’s another side,” Hunt says. “I mean, you have to believe … If you plant a crop, you believe it’s going to grow.”
“A lot of us are going with new plantings,” Hunt says. “There’s a number of new tree incentive programs … You have to put trees in the ground if you have any hope at all. My family’s doing that; a lot of growers are doing that. Time will tell if that was the right decision, but we believe it is today.”
Hunt explains why the industry will need the FDOC when it gets through the HLB crisis. “It’s unbelievable, as good and healthy as orange juice is for you … how we have to defend it, but that’s the reality of today’s world with digital media and the Internet … You can start a rumor and it takes a life of its own. So, we need to be here to represent (growers) and continue to push orange juice forward with all the health benefits and the nutritional benefits, and fight any untruths or falsehoods that get out there and catch fire.” Among other issues it has addressed, the FDOC in recent years has attempted to counter claims that the sugar in orange juice can be harmful.
Hunt concludes by telling why he thinks next season’s crop may be larger than some expect: “My foreman and harvesters and everybody that rides the groves both in the Ridge and in South Florida all feel like and see more fruit for this coming year.”
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