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Florida citrus industry continues to struggle as USDA predicts low orange production in June

On Friday, the USDA released its annual June citrus forecast, estimating Florida will produce 40.7 million boxes of oranges this year.

FLORIDA, USA — The United States Department of Agriculture estimates Florida will produce 44.75 million boxes of oranges, grapefruit and other specialty crops by the end of the year, the lowest number in 80 years.

When production numbers go down, prices go up. Last year the price of orange juice went up by almost 14 percent; and with a citrus forecast estimating historic lows for 2022, small business owners are feeling the pinch.

“We just continue to see a price increase as with many things, but citrus has been one; and we have just sort of been eating it, but eventually we’re going to have to raise our price," said Dave Borkan, owner of JJ's Deli and Market in St. Petersburg.

One of the main problems is citrus greening, a disease first spotted in Florida back in 1995, and has now decimated a huge portion of citrus trees in the Sunshine State. 

"We’re having to constantly spoon feed the trees, we’re always giving it something because what citrus greening has done, is affect our roots," said Christian Spinosa, a citrus grower. "It keeps the nutrients from getting up the tree, kind of like suffocating the tree.”

Currently, there’s no known cure for the agricultural disease and the citrus industry is scrambling for solutions. 

The long-term solution for this problem is going to be rootstocks, or trees that are ultimately tolerant and resistant to citrus greening. 

"Breeders are working as hard and as fast as they can to get that tree of the future if you will," said Matt Joyner, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. 

About $37 million dollars from the state budget was appropriated and approved earlier in June, and those funds will help researchers determine a viable solution to the greening problem. 

Peak citrus production came in 1997 with 244 million boxes. 

Citrus greening has plagued citrus crops for the last few decades, and researchers are still scrambling to come up with a cure.

According to a study by the University of Florida in March of 2021, the Florida citrus industry had an economic impact of $6.762 billion on the state and is responsible for more than 33,300 jobs.

Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried responded to the June projections.

“Even though production is down from the prior season, this forecast is an encouraging sign for Florida citrus growers as we mark two consecutive months where the orange production forecast has increased slightly," she said. "Our producers have faced many challenges over the past decade, including the continued impact of citrus greening and severe weather events – from Hurricane Irma to recent freezes."

"However, Florida orange juice and our fresh citrus continue to be in demand by consumers. Growers, packers, and processors are committed to saving this industry through innovation, dedication, and tenacity."

"Consumers can also do their part to help support our growers by choosing Fresh From Florida citrus and OJ when grocery shopping," Fried added.

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