It’s common knowledge that Florida’s citrus industry is in the fight of its life. The industry has been fighting against HLB—also known as citrus greening—for a decade, and things aren’t going too well. However, the last few months have seen some successes that seem to indicate this year’s Florida citrus season is poised for good news.
USDA Florida Citrus Forecast
Every month, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates how many millions of boxes the current citrus season will produce. As HLB spread and decimated trees all over the state, forecasts have fallen, month after month, season year after season year.
However, the last three months—March through May of the 2015-2016 season—have actually seen increases in the 2015-2016 forecast. Just recently, the USDA raised the forecast by over 5 million boxes, a 7 percent increase over the prior month’s forecast. It brings the total forecast for the Florida citrus season up to 81.1 million boxes. The forecast has increased by 12.1 million boxes since the February forecast.
Emergency Use of Bactericides
There have been no explanations for the increases to date. However, the emergency use of three bactericides for Florida citrus growers was approved in March by the EPA. According to Tom Jerkins, President of Premier Citrus and current President of the CRDF Board of Directors in a Growing Produce article, “These products are the first available to Florida growers that show real data lowering levels of HLB bacteria in the plant.” There have been no reports as to the success or otherwise of these bactericides on this season, but it will be interesting to see the season progress, hopefully with a continued upward trend, and to see the results of bactericides in the field.
Future of Florida Citrus
While the increasing forecasts are a definite “silver lining” (as they are being called) the industry needs the storm clouds of HLB to be cleared away for good; in short, a treatment or cure is needed to save the industry for the long term.
At the height of the industry in the 1990s, the citrus industry harvested 244 million boxes of citrus in the 1997-1998 year. As Commission of Agriculture Adam Putnam pointed out, the industry is still down 70 percent from those high harvest numbers of the 90s. Hopefully, a solution is in sight for this billion-dollar industry that is all-important in The Sunshine State.