Weather, Costs and Other Citrus Impacts

Josh McGillProduction, Weather

In U.S. Citrus Production – An Uphill Battle to Survive, Daniel Munch zeroed in on issues impacting citrus-producing states. In excerpts that follow, the American Farm Bureau Federation economist focuses on weather, disease, population, production shifts and increasing costs that have impacted citrus.

Hurricanes, droughts, floods and freezes have all impacted U.S. citrus production in recent years. (Photo courtesy of Florida Citrus Mutual)

In 2017, Hurricane Irma’s high winds and damaging rains battered key citrus-producing regions in Florida, resulting in the smallest Florida crop in over 70 years. In 2022, Hurricane Ian caused up to $675 million in citrus crop and infrastructure damages. Weather-associated risks in Florida have, however, been overshadowed by the ongoing presence of citrus greening disease.

Rapid population growth has adversely impacted Florida citrus as well. Demand for new housing, associated businesses and infrastructure has reduced the percentage of land dedicated to agriculture. For citrus growers in particular, the prospect of record land sales values can be a much safer option than risking another year to the whims of weather and disease.

Since 2005, orange production in Florida has dropped 90%. Between 2002 and 2017, the number of citrus growers in Florida decreased from 7,389 to 2,775, or 62%.

This year is expected to be the first in which California produces more oranges than Florida, with California forecast to produce 45 million boxes or 72% of all domestic oranges. Before 2014, Florida consistently produced over 70% of the nation’s oranges.

California’s commercial citrus crop is geographically immune to the impact of hurricanes and has been spared from citrus greening thus far, though detections in residential groves have sparked much concern. Drought conditions, and more recently, high-precipitation events, have pressured orange yields in California. However, production has held steady between 40 million and 65 million boxes since 2000.

In 2000, 80% of domestically grown grapefruit was from Florida, followed by California (11%), Texas (8%) and Arizona (1%). In 2023, 51% of the much smaller projected crop is expected from California, followed by Texas (29%) and Florida (20%).

California is projected to produce over 97% of the tangerines in 2023 with the remainder in Florida.

Citrus harvesting is labor intensive. Any reduction in the availability of labor and increase in cost of that labor further handicaps citrus producers in their ability to increase production. The number of U.S. farmworkers has continuously declined since 2003, leading many operations to turn to the H-2A guestworker program to secure needed labor. Though the program offers solutions, compliance and documentation can be cumbersome, and enforced wage rates can be unrealistic.

Beyond labor, farmers are already facing record production costs, which increased $70 billion in 2022 and are expected to increase another $18 billion in 2023.

Munch also provided an overview of U.S. citrus concerns in his report. 

Source: American Farm Bureau Federation