Grower Kevin Shelfer of Joshua Citrus lacks confidence in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s initial 54 million-box forecast for Florida oranges. “I feel like the (USDA) number is way higher than what I personally think it is,” he says. “I had in mind it would probably be in the mid-30s to 40 (million boxes).” He expects to see further declines in the USDA forecast “because a lot of fruit is still falling off the trees in the places that were hit the hardest (by Hurricane Irma).”
Shelfer’s groves are in DeSoto County. “The ones on the eastern side of the county got the worst hit,” he says. “We lost 100 percent in a lot of places, especially in our navels and grapefruit. And our earlier varieties were totally lost … We lost all of our tangerines in the eastern part of the county. Back toward the west, we lost navels and some Minneolas, probably about 60 percent, but round oranges seemed to do a lot better in the western part of the county.”
Shelfer guesses his total fruit loss is about 50 percent as a result of the hurricane.
The grower thinks the industry will bounce back from Hurricane Irma “because a lot of people are still planting. We’re still planting trees … I think the future’s very optimistic.”
Shelfer says he’s currently planning to stick totally with citrus and not plant alternative crops. Many citrus growers have planted some other crops, including peaches and blueberries, in recent years to diversify in the face of the HLB disease that has devastated Florida citrus since 2005.
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