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Florida grapefruit harvest takes another big hit

Though the orange crop is holding steady, Florida's grapefruit harvest forecast was reduced Tuesday by 800,000 boxes to 8.1 million.
[Times file photo]

Though the orange crop is holding steady, Florida's grapefruit harvest forecast was reduced Tuesday by 800,000 boxes to 8.1 million. [Times file photo]

Florida's citrus industry continued to take its lumps from a destructive bacterial disease as the state's grapefruit harvest forecast was reduced Tuesday by 800,000 boxes to 8.1 million, a new report shows.

But the news isn't all gloomy with the orange crop holding steady at 67 million boxes in a revised forecast release by the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service.

"It's a tough hit for Florida's grapefruit growers who have been so committed to fighting pest and disease to maintain this staple of Florida's economy. Florida grapefruit is, by far, what world consumers seek out for its unique flavor profile, sweetness and juiciness," said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus.

Florida growers harvested about 81 million boxes of oranges in the 2015-16 season and another 9 million boxes of grapefruit as the industry continued the onslaught of citrus greening, an incurable citrus disease that kills citrus trees and makes their fruit unsuitable for sale. Citrus greening is harmless to humans.

In some parts of the world, greening is called yellow dragon disease, and to many Florida growers, you might as well have taken a torch to their crops. The drop from the industry's heyday is remarkable. In the late 1990s, the state's orange harvest climbed to 244 million boxes.

"Today's citrus forecast represents a 70 percent collapse in production of our state's signature crop in the last 20 years," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said. "Until a long-term solution is discovered, which some of our state's brightest minds are working on, we must support Florida's multi-billion dollar citrus industry and the more than 60,000 jobs it supports."

Previous coverage: Dying on the vine? Florida's shriveling agriculture industry can't shake the fall of citrus, loss of land

But greening has so damaged Florida's citrus crop, the economic impact of state agriculture is much reduced, figures show.

Crops and livestock — the essence of the agricultural industry — now account for less than 1 percent of the state's economy (about $6 billion a year according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis) and their relative contribution has been dropping fast. Just since the early 2000s, the value of agriculture as a share of the state economy has been nearly cut in half.

Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] Follow @Times_Levesque.

Florida grapefruit harvest takes another big hit 04/11/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 12:35am]
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[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images, 2017]