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Florida citrus industry projects cautious optimism

Florida citrus presents an extremely different picture from California.

In many ways, it is the mirror image of the latter: whereas California’s citrus industry is dominated by the fresh market, providing 80 percent of the domestic supply, only about 5 percent of Florida’s output goes into the fresh market, says Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Florida Citrus Mutual, BB #:163418 Bartow, FL.

Products include navels, Valencias, Murcott honey tangerines, tangelos, and grapefruit. The rest of the state’s production is for the orange juice market.

Florida has seen a sharp decline in citrus acreage over the past decade, from 530,900 bearing acres in 2008-09 to 387,100 in 2018-19.

Citrus greening has been the main culprit, although urbanization is also a factor. Some growers have chosen agritourism (crop mazes and the like) as an alternative; others have planted different crops, such as peaches.

Florida agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried has urged farmers to consider replacing some acres of fruit with hemp, which, she predicts, could become a $20-30 billion a year industry.

In terms of the general industry mood, Meadows says, “it’s hard to categorize everybody.” Although “there’s a lot of cautious optimism out there, small- and medium-sized growers aren’t as optimistic.”

In one bright sign for the state’s grapefruit industry, Peace River Citrus Products and Scott Family Companies and its partners will invest more than $25 million to plant 250,000 new grapefruit trees on 1,500 acres in Florida’s St. Lucie and Indian River counties. The company intends to boost the state’s grapefruit production by 15 percent (current acreage is at 25,339).

This is multi-part feature on the U.S. citrus industry adapted from the January/February 2020 issue of Produce Blueprints.

Richard Smoley, editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published eleven books.