As US lawmakers debated disaster recovery funding as part of a longer-term spending bill Thursday, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced yet another decrease in the size of the Florida Orange crop this season due to Hurricane Irma.
The USDA's report estimated Florida orange production for 2017/18 at 45m boxes, a 35 per cent decrease over last season and the lowest crop size in more than 75 years.
The USDA's initial crop forecast in October estimated 54m boxes of oranges. Florida grapefruit production remained at 4.65m boxes, a decrease of 40 per cent over last season.
"While this is certainly lower than initial estimates, it was not unexpected. We are still hopeful the remainder of the season holds stable," said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus. "Should disaster recovery funding pass today, it would give growers the confidence they need to continue making investments to keep this season's crop stable and produce more Florida citrus in the years to come."
Hurricane Irma had a devastating impact on the Florida Citrus industry, with growers reporting 30 per cent to 70 per cent crop loss after Hurricane Irma’s landfall on 10 September last year, 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.
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.
Prior to Hurricane Irma, Florida was expected to produce about 75m boxes of oranges this season, according to private estimates.
With the spending bill, and therefore the disaster recovery funding, up for debate, Michael Sparks – executive vice-president and chief executive of industry body Florida Citrus Mutual – sent an open letter to the Florida House delegation regarding Hurricane Irma Agriculture Relief.
In the letter, which you can read in full below, Sparks highlighted the damage suffered as a result of the storm, and urged the House to pass the Bipartisan Budget Act:
Dear Congressman (woman):
On behalf of Florida Citrus Mutual and 3,800 Florida citrus growers, I urge the House to pass the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) when it arrives from the Senate this week.
As you know, the Florida citrus industry suffered catastrophic damage in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Not only did we lose over 65 per cent of the current year’s crop, but the long-term effects will be far reaching as tree and water damage emerge over time. Production will not recover from this storm for many years.
The Disaster Aid Package accompanying the BBA provides essential relief/rebuild funding to get the Florida citrus industry back on its feet. This vote is critical. Growers and the communities and their families that rely on citrus can't wait. They need to know this funding is on the way right now. Livelihoods and a way of life are at stake.
We very much appreciate the leadership of the entire Florida delegation as we've fought for this aid package. The bipartisan support has been a source of strength for our entire industry.
Florida citrus growers ask you to vote yes and we look forward to continuing to work with you in the months to come.
Thank you for your favourable consideration.
Michael W. Sparks
Executive VP/CEO - Florida Citrus Mutual