Florida Citrus Show, Jan. 23-24

The USDA’s initial orange crop estimate of 79 million boxes for 2018-2019 echoes the sentiment that things are trending upward. The 2019 Florida Citrus Show education program is packed with relevant information to help keep that momentum going. Scheduled for Jan. 23-24 at the Havert L. Fenn Center in Ft. Pierce, the Florida Citrus Show is a great opportunity to learn and catch up with fellow growers and industry friends. citrusshow.com

Frank Giles is editor of Florida Grower

Profitable to plant new citrus groves?

During the past 20 years, the Florida citrus industry has faced multiple challenges. On the demand side, the introduction of new and alternative beverages to orange juice has increased competition. In addition, consumer concerns and media reports on sugar content in orange juice have likely negatively affected demand, triggering a response from the industry to address them. Changes in consumer lifestyles and diets also have conspired against orange juice consumption.

On the supply side, challenges have included the expansion of urban development and a resulting decrease in the availability of agricultural land; the reduction of domestic labor supply availability with its consequent increase in cost; and the introduction of exotic diseases. But, chiefly among all challenges, the industry has been dealing with HLB (citrus greening) since 2005.

As trees become increasingly affected by the disease, they suffer premature fruit drop; the fruit harvested is smaller and misshapen; and the juice quality is compromised—all resulting in lower yield. In addition, tree mortality and cost of production increase. In Southwest Florida, production costs for processed oranges, on a per-box basis, have increased from $3.17 in 2003-2004 to $12.71 in 2016-2017—a 300 percent increase. During the same period, due to the decrease in supply (and as economic theory predicts), prices per box increased by approximately 200 percent. The increase in cost relative to price has resulted in a lack of profitability for the average grower, particularly during the last few seasons.

As a consequence of the challenges the industry has been facing, production has plummeted by approximately 80 percent in the last 13 years, causing the industry to drastically downsize at all levels.

To prevent more growers and infrastructure from going away, and to keep the Florida citrus industry afloat until a cure or management strategy for HLB is found, several public and private incentive programs for replanting are now available to growers. These programs encourage growers to invest in new citrus groves by reducing the initial investment. However, perhaps more importantly, a key question is whether current practices, particularly the typical grove-planting density, are still valid (i.e., profitable) in the current environment.

I recently led efforts to develop an analysis that describes the establishment and production costs for a new grove in Florida under endemic HLB conditions for three tree planting densities under different market conditions. Here are some of the key findings.

Establishing a new grove with a tree density of 145 trees per acre (similar to the state’s average) was found not to be profitable under current market conditions. Moreover, such tree density only attains a modest return under potential higher prices. Despite the higher level of investment required for planting 220 and 303 trees per acre, analysis shows that under the assumptions and scenarios analyzed, those investments yield higher returns and have the potential to be economically viable.

The main driver for the results is that while the costs of higher-density groves do not increase proportionally with the number of trees, yield per acre does. Therefore, planting higher-density groves could offset some of the impact of HLB by decreasing the cost of production per box due to costs per acre being allocated to a higher number of boxes, ultimately resulting in an increase in profitability per acre.

Files containing the analysis, assumptions, and results are available at https://crec.ifas.ufl.edu/extension/economics/economic_tools.shtml.

Ariel Singerman is an assistant professor and UF/IFAS Extension economist based at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred

How has 2018 been for your farm business?

As I have now turned to the final page of my 2018 calendar, I am reflecting a bit on happenings in our world of agriculture, and society in general, this past year. It was a good one but, like always, it had its challenges. Let’s work to make 2019 even better.

Fair trade in Florida is hard to come by. The much hoped for new NAFTA (so far) is a dud for Florida specialty crop growers, despite the yeoman’s effort on the part of our industry representatives and elected officials. We have to keep seeking a remedy for the dumping of cheap Mexican products into our market.

Labor is still a huge deal. Most growers will tell you it’s their No. 1 concern. With talk of caravans in the news and elections swinging on immigration, you would think politicians would come up with a solution to the age-old problem. I believe each side sees it as too good of a problem to solve, preferring to use it as a political weapon against their opponents. So, all growers really have is the H-2A visa, and it may soon be stretched beyond capacity.

Growers are amazingly resilient. My favorite part of this job is being able to talk with growers regularly. When you consider the challenges they face among weather, bugs, and weeds, and everything else, they are determined and remarkably positive. They love their job and it shows. There are a lot of good people out there doing good things. Florida growers are among those good folks. I wish them a successful and prosperous 2019.

Frank Giles

Florida tomato and goat cheese tart

Ingredients:

4-6 Florida tomatoes, sliced thin

Pie dough (store bought or homemade)

3-4 ounces goat cheese

3-4 sprigs of thyme, minced

1 garlic clove, finely minced

Olive oil for drizzling

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Egg wash for rim of tart

Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Use a piece of parchment paper for your working surface and sprinkle flour on it so the dough doesn’t stick. Roll out tart dough to approximately 1/8 inch thick. Lightly sprinkle salt and pepper onto dough and evenly scatter the tomato slices on the dough. Next drop small spoonsful of goat cheese on the dough. Sprinkle fresh thyme leaves and minced garlic over the top and drizzle with olive oil. Season again with sea salt and pepper. Loosely fold up the edges of the tart dough and brush with egg wash. Transfer to a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.

Pie/tart dough

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoons sugar

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

6 to 7 tablespoons ice water

Preparation:

In a medium bowl combine the flour, salt and sugar. Using a pastry cutter or 2 sharp knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles pea-size pieces. Add the chilled water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and stir. Add one tablespoon of water as needed until the dough comes together, it should be moist but not sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a 5-inch disk. Tightly cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each dough disk into a 12-inch round, about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer each piece of rolled out dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before baking. Use the dough as directed in the recipe, making sure the dough stays cold until ready to cook (if the dough should come to room temperature place back in the fridge for 20-30 minutes, then transfer to oven immediately). Makes enough dough for two 10-inch tarts.

freshfromflorida.com

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