“In the wake of Hurricane Irma, it is extremely difficult to estimate the size of this year’s crop,” Florida Citrus Mutual CEO Mike Sparks said soon after the latest citrus crop forecast was issued on Nov. 9. “In reality, we probably won’t have an accurate number until the middle of 2018 once all fruit is picked. Long term, the effects of Irma are going to take years to hash out, especially during the era of HLB where we don’t know how the already stressed trees are going to respond over the next few seasons.”
When the initial U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) crop forecast for the 2017-18 season in October projected 54 million boxes of Florida oranges, Mutual stated the number was well above the crop predicted by a Mutual grower damage survey. Mutual stated that its survey had projected an orange crop “closer to 31 million boxes.” On Nov. 9, the USDA reduced the Florida orange crop forecast to 50 million boxes.
Prior to Hurricane Irma hitting Florida in September, many growers were reporting good crops this summer and expecting a rebound in production following years of decline caused primarily by HLB disease. In August, private forecaster Elizabeth Steger estimated Florida would produce 75.5 million boxes of oranges this season. But Hurricane Irma knocked much fruit off of the trees, leaving growers facing another low-crop season. Mutual has led the industry’s effort to obtain federal aid for growers who lost fruit and trees to the storm.
Monday, Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows said “there is no new news” regarding efforts to obtain federal aid for relief from Hurricane Irma, which hit the citrus belt Sept. 10-11. “But we’re in constant contact with our (Florida) congressional delegation,” Meadows said. Contacts include U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and Congressman Tom Rooney. “And we’re cautiously optimistic that a supplement disaster appropriation, which includes a citrus relief/rebuild package, will be passed in November.”
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