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Hard-hit citrus industry will mean higher prices for consumers

MIAMI -- Consumers in Florida and across the nation should expect the price of Florida orange and grapefruit (fruit, juice, etc.) to increase as a direct response to the ravages of Hurricane Ian.

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the initial citrus crop forecast for the 2022-23 season

But that survey was taken before the hurricane.

The forecast includes a decrease in Florida orange, grapefruit and specialty crop (mostly tangerines and tangelos) production.

 According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Florida all orange forecast, at 28.0 million boxes (1.26 million tons), was down 32 percent from last season's final utilization.

Navel varieties were forecast down 40 percent from last season and the Valencia orange forecast was down 25 percent.

The industry has struggled for years with issues such as deadly citrus-greening disease, and the surveys found trees showing smaller-sized fruit and fewer oranges per tree.  

After the hurricane, further production decreases will likely mean even more scarcity and increased prices at the grocery store.

Florida citrus growers face the possibility of producing the smallest crop since the Great Depression.  

"As we move forward in the wake of this disaster, rest assured that I remain steadfast in my support of our Florida citrus growers," said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in a statement on Wednesday. "And my department remains committed to innovation in the face of the ongoing challenges of weather events like Ian, citrus greening and unfair trade practices.

"It is heartbreaking to see such an iconic Florida industry hurting right now." A December forecast will reflect updated inspections of groves.

Fried said that the current citrus forecast, surveyed prior to Hurricane Ian, will be "an invaluable baseline for growers, processors, packers and government in predicting additional crop loss."

The industry during the 2021-2022 season had its lowest output in eight decades. Along with citrus greening, growers also face increased demand for land in the rapidly developing state, higher labor costs and foreign competition.  

"This year will be tough, she admitted, "no one is disputing that. But I believe in the tenacity and passion of our citrus industry professionals to come back stronger than ever," she said.

The state budget that went into effect July 1 included $37 million for the citrus industry, with the biggest chunks of money being $17 million for Department of Citrus marketing programs, $8 million for research programs, and $6.2 million for what is known as the Citrus Health Response Program, which includes cultivating new trees resistant to greening.  

"Side-by-side with our industry partners and stakeholders," she said, "I promise I will do everything in my power to secure all the available resources for Florida's growers to recover from Hurricane Ian."

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