The 2017/18 Florida citrus crop will fall well short of initial USDA estimates following the losses caused by Hurricane Irma.
The state’s largest citrus grower organisation, Florida Citrus Mutual, said on Thursday that initial estimates were well above the crop predicted by the results of their grower damage survey.
FCM said the USDA could not accurately account for the full extent of the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Irma and that historically, it has a high margin of error in crop years with a natural disaster.
“I'm disappointed the USDA did not delay the traditional October crop estimate until more data could be collected to fully assess the damage wrought by Irma,” said Michael W. Sparks, FCM’s executive vice president and CEO.
“Irma hit us just a month ago and although we respect the skill and professionalism of the USDA, there is no way they can put out a reliable number in that short time period.”
On 10 September Hurricane Irma moved through the centre of the state hitting Florida’s major citrus producing regions with winds of up to 120 miles per hour. The hurricane blew fruit off the tree and caused widespread tree damage.
An FCM survey of growers conducted post Irma pegged total fruit loss at more than 50 per cent with some reports of 100 per cent fruit loss in the southwest part of the state.
The USDA makes its first estimate in October of each year and revises it monthly as the crop takes shape until the end of the season in July.
The USDA’s total orange forecast is for 54m cartons, made up of 23m cartons of early and mid-season and 31m cartons of Valencias. The total grapefruit forecast is for 4.9m cartons, with whites at 900,000 cartons and coloured at 4m cartons. Total specialty varieties weigh in at 1m cartons.
FCM’s grower survey predicts that the 2017/18 orange crop will be closer to 31m cartons.
“The long-term effect of Irma on our industry will take years to sort out,” Sparks said. “We had groves underwater and those trees aren’t just going to bounce back and continue producing fruit. They are gone.
“Just like when the hurricanes hit in 2004/05 and dramatically re-shaped out industry, Irma was a historic event that dealt Florida citrus a major blow.”
The Florida citrus industry creates a US$8.6bn annual economic impact, employing nearly 46,000 people, and covering about 450,000 acres. Founded in 1948, Florida Citrus Mutual is the state's largest citrus grower organisation.