The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting this year’s Florida citrus crop will be the smallest since the 1940s. The state is slated to produce 54 million boxes, down from nearly 300 million in the 2000s.
This year’s citrus harvest was supposed to be the largest in years, finally a crop to be proud of, as agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam put it. He calls the destruction from Hurricane Irma a double kick in the gut.
“If you were to go into an orange grove in Florida right now you could stand there and hear fruit hitting the ground," Putnam said. "If I were to drive you through an orange grove right now you would see various shades of orange on fruit that’s not supposed to be mature yet. And that’s not maturity, that’s rot.”
Putnam warns the final yield may be worse than the USDA is predicting.
“Some estimates would say that groves that were impacted by the hurricane will continue to experience significant fruit drop for weeks to come," Putnam said. "So it’s just important I think that we continue to recognize that the damage done to Florida agriculture is still unfolding."
Congress did not include funding for the state’s farmers in its latest disaster relief package, despite calls from Putnam and Governor Rick Scott. The Tampa Bay Times is reporting the lack of funding is an issue of timing, and the funding should be included in a future relief bill.
State numbers estimate $2.5 billion in losses industry-wide. Florida lawmakers are requesting a package that would make farmers whole.