WAUCHULA, Fla. – Growers gathered at two industry events Friday expressed pleasure and optimism with the crop numbers projected for the 2014-15 Florida Citrus season.
Released at noon by the the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the season’s first citrus crop forecast estimated 108 million boxes of Florida Oranges, a modest increase over the previous season. The forecast called for a slight decline in Florida Grapefruit, with 15 million boxes.
“This gives everybody – the processors, growers and suppliers – some optimism for the year,” said Ben Hill Griffin III, a grower and processor based in Frostproof, Fla. “This is a big industry and the more volume we have, the better it is for the industry as a whole.”
As the season continues, the initial crop forecast is adjusted to reflect the reality of the season. In previous years, that has meant significantly reduced numbers by year end. However, many in the industry are hopeful the numbers will remain strong thanks to a modification the USDA made to its calculations this year to better account for the amount of premature fruit drop experienced in previous seasons.
“In the coming months, we will obviously keep a close eye on fruit drop, which has been significant and unpredictable, and, of course, on the weather,” said Marisa Zansler, director of economic and market research at the Florida Department of Citrus, in a statement released Friday. “In the meantime, orange juice remains America’s favorite fruit juice by a wide margin. Today’s numbers give us reason to expect that status to continue.”
Industry members shared reactions to the forecast Friday at events held in Wauchula and Arcadia by Florida Citrus Mutual, Peace River Valley Citrus Growers Association, Joe L. Davis Inc. Realtors, Desoto Insurance, Morgan Stanley-Dick Johnson and Everglades Farm Equipment.
“I think it’s about right,” said Bobby Mixon, of Sunny South Packing Company in Hardee and Desoto counties. “The growers are finding a lot of ways to treat greening and canker so I think the numbers are going to be up.”
Though expected to make a slight decline, grapefruit growers remain positive, as well.
“This is great news, it proves grapefruit production has stabilized,” said Larry Black, of Peace River Packing Company in Ft. Meade. “And that is due to the aggressive efforts of our growers to care for their trees. Nutrition programs and new plantings have allowed this.”
While Friday’s forecast provided much-welcomed encouragement, the industry remains focused on providing consumers with the best possible product, said Doug Ackerman, executive director of the FDOC.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but we know that the Florida Citrus industry has always prevailed through difficult times, because of the innovation and hard work our growers bring to the groves every single day,” Ackerman said.