FCM Says Irma Damage Threw Off USDA Citrus Crop Estimate

Daniel CooperCitrus, Crop Forecast

Florida’s largest citrus grower organization said Thursday the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) initial estimate of the 2017-2018 citrus crop is well above the crop predicted by the results of their grower damage survey.

Florida Citrus Mutual believes the agency could not accurately account for the full extent of the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Irma. Historically, the USDA has a high margin of error in crop years with a natural disaster.

“I’m disappointed the USDA did not delay the traditional October crop estimate until more data could be collected to fully assess the damage wrought by Irma,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. “Irma hit us just a month ago and although we respect the skill and professionalism of the USDA, there is no way they can put out a reliable number in that short time period.”

Fallen fruit sits on the ground below orange trees in Frostproof, Fla., U.S. Hurricane Irma destroyed almost half of the state’s citrus crop.
Courtesy Citrus Research and Education Center – University of Florida

On September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma moved through the center of the state hitting Florida’s major citrus-producing regions with up to 120 mph winds. The hurricane blew fruit off the tree and caused widespread tree damage. An FCM survey of growers conducted post-Irma pegged total fruit loss at more than 50 percent with some reports of 100 percent fruit loss in the Southwest part of the state.

The USDA makes its first estimate in October of each year and revises it monthly as the crop takes shape until the end of the season in July. For more information click here.

The USDA’s total orange forecast is for 54 million boxes, made up of 23 million early and midseason and 31 million boxes of Valencias. The total grapefruit forecast is for 4.9 million boxes, with whites at 900,000 and colored at 4 million boxes. Total specialty comes in at 1 million boxes.

Mutual’s grower survey predicted the 2017-2018 orange crop closer to 31 million boxes.

“The long-term effect of Irma on our industry will take years to sort out,” Sparks said. “We had groves underwater and those trees aren’t just going to bounce back and continue producing fruit. They are gone.”

“Just like when the hurricanes hit in 2004-2005 and dramatically reshaped our¬†industry. Irma was a historic event that dealt Florida citrus a major blow.”

The Florida citrus industry creates a $8.6 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 46,000 people, and covering about 450,000 acres. Founded in 1948, Florida Citrus Mutual is the state’s largest citrus grower organization. For more information, visit Follow FCM on Twitter @FLCITRUSMUTUAL