A healthy outlook for citrus

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released figures Friday for the citrus industry. The 2018-2019 forecast calls for 72.4 million 90-pound boxes, down from the April estimate of 76.5 million, and the October 2018 estimate of 79 million boxes.

SEBRING — Projections of Florida citrus production went down approximately 4 million boxes last Friday, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

That may not have much impact on the harvest in Highlands County, said Ray Royce, executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association.

“Most of the guys I’m talking to around here are picking at or better than they thought,” Royce said Monday. “Most of the growers in Highlands County are doing well.”

When asked if he thought the prediction would be apparent from local harvests, “I don’t think so, no,” Royce said. “No.”

Figures posted Friday by the USDA indicate initial October forecasts for production of oranges, grapefruit and other specialty crops was off more than 10%.

Mark Hudson, a state statistician for USDA, said Friday that the orange crop is projected to fill 72.4 million 90-pound boxes, the standard industry measurement. It was down from the April estimate of 76.5 million boxes and the October 2018 estimate of 79 million boxes.

Hudson was cited by News Service of Florida as saying calculations for the latest forecast include figures on already processed boxes and oranges still in the field.

The May figure for oranges, as reported by USDA, is still above the 44.95 million boxes during the 2017-2018 growing season, plagued by Hurricane Irma, and the 68.85 million boxes picked two seasons ago.

Even so, Florida remains the national leader in citrus production, News Service reports, at 59% of the national orange production.

California is second with just less than 40%, News Service reports.

USDA reports that Florida’s grapefruit forecast is 4.58 million boxes, down from 4.9 million boxes in April.

At the beginning of the season, the forecast called for 6.7 million boxes. Two seasons ago, the grapefruit harvest was 7.76 million boxes.

The USDA reports that specialty fruit of tangerines and tangelos may make up another 1 million boxes, up from 950,000 in April and down from the 1.2 million-box prediction at the start of the season.

Throughout the mid-1990s, Florida’s citrus growers regularly filled more than 200 million boxes a year of oranges and 50 million boxes a year of grapefruit, before citrus canker and citrus greening had taken a toll and before Irma decimated what was expected to be the best crop in more than a decade.

Royce said growers in the local association have been dealing with the diseases and with the problems of getting their fruit through the processing plants. Still, he said they are satisfied, under the circumstances, with how they are doing.

“Most of the folks I’m talking to are relatively pleased,” Royce said.

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