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Months after Hurricane Irma, Florida citrus production is steady

Florida citrus production is holding steady in the first quarter of the year, despite being significantly lower because of Hurricane Irma damage. Pictured are orange crops hit by Hurricane Irma shortly after the storm. | [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times, 2017]
Florida citrus production is holding steady in the first quarter of the year, despite being significantly lower because of Hurricane Irma damage. Pictured are orange crops hit by Hurricane Irma shortly after the storm. | [SCOTT KEELER | Times, 2017]
Published Mar. 21, 2018

When it comes to annual orange production, Florida has long safely held the crown, significantly outgrowing competitors. But according to the latest forecasts, Florida might have to share the top spot with California this year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts Florida's orange production at 45 million boxes for the 2017-2018 growing season. That's slightly better than post-Hurricane Irma forecasts by Florida Citrus Mutual, which pegged orange levels at about 31 million boxes, the unit of measure for citrus crops.

But it puts Florida up against California for orange production. The Golden State is expected to produce 44.5 million boxes of oranges. During the 2016-2017 season, Florida out-produced California by about 18 million boxes, and in the season before that, it out-produced California by about 23 million boxes.

"It will take us a couple of years to recover fully from (Hurricane Irma) because of the need to replant trees and get production back up," said Shelley Rossetter, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Citrus.

Hurricane Irma devastated Florida's citrus industry, leaving citrus trees flattened, underwater or stripped of fruit. Early estimates pegged the year's crop yield at the lowest since 1942.

Previous coverage: Florida orange crop expected to be lowest in 75 years>

Florida provides about 60 percent of the country's citrus, amount to about $1 billion in annual sales, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The forecast sees a particularly sharp drop in Florida's grapefruit production this year. The Sunshine State is expected to produce 4.65 million boxes of grapefruit, down by 40 percent from the previous season's 7.76 million boxes.

Florida has typically led California and Texas significantly in supplying grapefruit. It is expected to be on par with the two states this year, with California anticipated to produce 4.2 million boxes and Texas with 4.1 million boxes.

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Relief, however, may be just ahead. Federal disaster relief funds are expected to be doled out this year. There is currently no timeline for distribution.

"That funding is going to help growers make decisions on next year's crop," Andrew Meadows, spokesperson for industry group Florida Citrus Mutual, said. "So it's very frustrating a program has not been put in place at this point."

Contact this reporter at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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