Behind Florida’s Production Decline

Ernie NeffProduction

In addition to recently projecting that Florida orange and red grapefruit production will likely decline for the foreseeable future, economist Tom Spreen provided some of the reasons.

Spreen, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences professor emeritus, cited an older tree inventory and declining fruit per tree as contributors to projected yield declines. He said nearly 57% of round oranges and 70% of red grapefruit trees are more than 14 years old. Since 2010, older trees have had dramatic reductions in the number of boxes each tree produces, he pointed out. In recent years, trees have produced only about 1.5 boxes per tree, down from more than five boxes per tree before HLB.

Older trees “have hit a wall,” Spreen added, noting that older trees are no longer seeing yield gains with increasing age, as they did historically.

Spreen cited “insufficient tree replacement rates” as a leading reason for statewide fruit production shortfalls. A slide he showed indicated the replanting rate for oranges has trailed the tree loss rate in Florida in every year but one since the 1999-2000 season. The exception was the 2017-18 season when replanted trees exceeded lost trees; that was the season Hurricane Irma struck Florida citrus in September 2017.

A slide Spreen showed suggested that “recovery of production of both round oranges and red grapefruit will be a lengthy process unless a major breakthrough is found that would substantially improve the yield curve and stimulate replanting efforts.”

Incentives to replant are needed to accelerate restoration of the tree inventory, Spreen said. He added that incentives are successful “but must be inclusive for all growers.”

A “concluding remarks” slide stated that “aggressive replanting strategies in the near term are imperative or citrus production will continue to falter and impact the long-term sustainability of the industry.”  

Florida citrus revenues exceeded production costs in the early 2000s, Spreen said. That was before HLB was discovered in the state in 2005. For the past seven or eight years, the industry in aggregate has suffered losses as production costs exceeded revenues, Spreen said.

Spreen presented this information during an Aug. 10 webinar hosted by the Florida Department of Citrus.

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Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large

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