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Carl Collen

BY CARL COLLEN

True hurricane damage 'rears ugly head'

Latest USDA Florida citrus forecast underscores need for federal assistance, according to Florida Department of Citrus

True hurricane damage 'rears ugly head'

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More than three months on from Hurricane Irma, Florida citrus growers continue to see losses in the groves, according to the latest US Department of Agriculture forecast.

The USDA has projected an additional 8 per cent decline in production of oranges for the 2017/18 season, down to 46m boxes, representing a 33 per cent decrease over last season.

Meanwhile, The Florida grapefruit industry is expected to produce 4.65m boxes, a drop of 40 per cent.
 
The news comes as the Florida Citrus industry seeks consideration for federal emergency funding to support growers impacted by the hurricane.
 
“This second reduction underscores the dire need for federal disaster assistance,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus. “Florida citrus growers are making decisions on next season’s crop now and they need to know they have the support necessary to keep this American icon alive.”

Florida growers reported 30 to 70 per cent crop loss after Hurricane Irma’s landfall on 10 September, with the southwest region of the state receiving the most damage. 

The hurricane uprooted trees and left many groves sitting in standing water for up to three weeks, potentially damaging the root systems and impacting future seasons’ growth.

"This is exactly what we thought would happen as the true damage begins to rear its ugly head in the groves across Florida," said Michael Sparks, executive vice-president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's largest grower organisation. "Unfortunately the situation is going to get worse before it gets better; we think the actual size of the 2017/18 crop will not be known until the season is over and all the fruit is picked.

"Clearly, this lower estimate provides stark evidence that Congress needs to pass a citrus relief package so we can start to rebuild and put the industry on a path to sustainability while saving the communities that rely on citrus," he added.

In October, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced that Florida Citrus sustained more than US$760m in damages due to Hurricane Irma. Those numbers are expected to grow as the season continues.

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