Some Florida citrus growers, but not all, were stunned by the low first crop forecast of the 2022–23 season. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projected the orange crop, which makes up more than 90% of all Florida citrus, at 28 million boxes. That’s 32% lower than last season.
“The estimate was a shock to all of us,” said Hardee County grower and nurseryman Aaron Himrod. “With the incremental gains from new production practices being implemented this year, it seemed like there was more fruit on the remaining acreage than this estimate reflects. Of course, the next update will see a significant reduction due to the effects of (Hurricane) Ian.” The surveys the forecast was based on were taken prior to the devastating hurricane that hit Florida’s citrus belt Sept. 28–29.
Orange County grower Chip Henry said he was also shocked at the low forecast. “The net result could be up to half of this estimate being lost to the storm (Hurricane Ian) eventually,” he said.
Grower Glenn Beck, president of Florida Citrus Mutual, was not overly surprised by the forecast. “Due to the amount of acreage that’s lost during the past year … everyone was pretty much of the mindset that it was going to be lower than the previous year,” he said immediately before the forecast. After the forecast, he added, “That definitely would fall in line with what we thought.”
Like other growers, Jackson Scarborough of Scarborough Farms in DeSoto and Highlands counties pointed out that because of Hurricane Ian, production will likely be “much lower” than the initial forecast. “The path it (the hurricane) took couldn’t have been any worse on the citrus industry,” he said.
On top of fruit losses, many growers expect tree losses as a result of Hurricane Ian. Beck said some of his groves remained under water two weeks after the hurricane. “We know that we will experience tree loss from flooding,” he said.
Scarborough asked: “How many producers will get a check from crop insurance or disaster relief and never put it back into production? This will be their last year.” He also wondered about impacts on others than growers in the industry, asking, “If you’re a pick and haul guy, how do you continue to survive?”
But Scarborough added that he will stay in the citrus business. “Lower numbers mean higher prices in the long run,” he said.
Himrod added that while the industry struggles now, future crops will increase. “Two hurricanes and a freeze within the last five years on top of HLB will test anyone’s faith in this industry,” he said. “However, our patience will be rewarded, and I fully expect the estimates in future years to steadily climb.”
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