We have forgotten about what has made Florida great — our oranges!
By Taylor Foland
It’s a well-known fact that the Florida citrus market has drastically declined in recent years. Orange groves have decreased in production. Citrus greening is putting Florida’s citrus groves in jeopardy.
According to official statistics released by the USDA, and the National Agricultural Statistics Service, citrus production is continuing to decline in the state of Florida. These statistics were collected between 2015 through 2016, and were published in March 2017. They are available here.
These seasonal reports show the citrus market in a steady decline. According to USDA calculations, out of the 67 counties in Florida, the top counties for citrus production (per 1,000 boxes) are: Hendry, DeSoto, and Polk County. These top-three counties are then followed by Highlands, Hardee, and St. Lucie County. USDA ranked Seminole County dead-last.
Orange County did not even make the top ten, ironically. The statistics show that the number of acres for citrus production, including oranges and grapefruits are dwindling. According to their chart titled: “Commercial Citrus Acreage by Production Area, Type and Year of Inventory – Florida: 2015-2016” we can see the exact numbers around the different areas of our state.
For oranges, in the Indian River area, the orange acreage was 24,520 in 2015, in 2016 it dropped to: 20,222. In Central Florida, the acreage for oranges was: 135,446 but this number dropped to: 131,934. Statistics show the same decline of orange acreage in Northern, Southern, and Western Florida also. The totality of Florida orange acreage in 2015 was: 441,628, it dropped to 425,728 in 2016. That is a difference of 15,900 acres.
In grapefruit acreage, in the Indian River area, there were 32,401 acres in 2015, in the same location it dropped to: 29,518. In Central Florida, grapefruit acreage went from 4,052 in 2015, to 3,369 in 2016. In totality, the documented acreage there was 43,962 acres of grapefruit in 2015, in 2016 that dropped to 40,316.
Specialty citrus grove acreage also decreased, the total acreage in 2015 was 15,806. Then in 2016, it dropped to 14,077. So, a difference of 1,729.
Florida used to have a booming citrus market, up and down the St. Johns River. In recent years, the citrus industry has taken hits from pests, deep freezes, imports, and citrus greening. When everything is added together, in 2015, there were 501,396 acres of citrus groves in all. In 2016, that number dropped to 480,121 acres. This is a loss of 21,275 acres, but you do the math.
From the USDA:
“United States citrus utilized production for the 2015-2016 season totaled 8.56 million tons, down 6 percent from the 2014-2015 season. Florida accounted for 49 percent of total U.S. citrus production; California totaled 47 percent, and Texas and Arizona combined produced the remaining 4 percent.”
“Florida’s share of U.S. citrus production was 94.2 million boxes in the 2015-2016 season, down 16 percent from the previous season’s 113 million boxes. Production decreased for all citrus varieties when compared to the previous season.”
“Florida’s all orange production decreased by 16 percent to 81.6 million boxes. All grapefruit production is down 16 percent to 10.8 million boxes. Production of tangerines is down 38 percent, and tangelo production is down 41 percent.”
Florida used to have some of the largest exports of Navel, Ambersweet, Hamlin Orange, Pineapple Orange, Temple Orange, Valencia Orange, White Seedless Grapefruit, Red Seedless Grapefruit, Seedy Grapefruit, Orlando Tangelos, Minneola Tangelos, Fallglo Tangerines, Sunburst Tangerines, and Honey Tangerines.
What happened? Florida’s official state flower is the Orange Blossom, and our official state beverage is orange juice. Oranges have been planted in Florida since the Spaniards landed hundreds of years ago!
However, since crop disease is on the rise, more and more imported oranges have been coming into the United States from South American countries like Peru, and countries like South Africa, half-way around the world.
The main reason for the problem facing the citrus industry is a disease known as: citrus-greening (Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus).
According to a Florida Farm Bureau article this is how citrus greening infects trees:
“Greening is carried from tree to tree by the Asian citrus psyllid. When the insect sucks on leaf sap, it leaves behind the greening bacteria, which enters the phloem and spreads throughout the tree. Greening starves the tree of nutrients, damages its roots and causes the fruit to be green and misshapen, forcing its rejection for fresh fruit sales and sometimes for juice. Most infected trees eventually die.”
This problem is difficult to address, farmers cannot control the insects except through pesticides. Recently, UF researchers have been working on a solution to this. UF/IFAS’s Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) have been able to isolate a specific gene, from a plant known as the Aribidopsis plant.
The Aribidopsis plant is a small flowering plant indigenous to Eurasia, it’s related to the Mustard family of plants. If botanists and researches can isolate the gene, they can grow citrus trees that are resistant to citrus greening.
There is no cure for citrus greening, which is a big problem. Researchers have had limited success with this, they plan to put this isolated gene into action through commercial groves, to stack genes which will protect trees on an entirely different level, using a different biological mechanism.
The question isn’t: “what do we do about the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri)? The question should be: “how do we protect citrus trees from the inside-out?” We need a plan to protect our citrus industry in Florida.
According to candidate for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Paul Paulson:
“Well, number one: we need to expand our research at the University of Florida, where they’re currently coming up with the beede seed.”
We need to cooperate with other locations, specifically Texas, where they have come up with a different strain of orange, that has some of the spinach plant in them, so we need to cooperate with other states, because Texas is having the same problem as well.”
Lastly, we have to encourage Agriculture Commissioner Perdue at the national level, and our President, to renegotiate some of the treaties that we have with countries that are dumping their cheap labor-produced oranges and citrus here.”
We have forgotten about what has made Florida great — our oranges! The citrus industry provides Florida’s economy with millions of dollars every year, and employs thousands.
It is the second-largest industry in the state of Florida, besides tourism. We must do all we can to protect our groves and farmers.
Taylor Foland is a Volunteer Coordinator for ACT For America, the nation’s largest grassroots national security group. ACT has over 750,000 members and 1,000 allied volunteers groups across America.