Florida Citrus Is Still A Big Deal

This column originally appeared in Growing Produce. Doug Ackerman served as FDOC executive director from 2011 through July 2015.

When researchers from the University of Florida presented the latest study of the citrus industry’s economic impact at December’s Florida Citrus Commission meeting, no one expected a small number. We all know Florida citrus has long been a vital contributor to prosperity here in the Sunshine State.

However, the number we heard — $10.7 billion — was larger than many of us would have imagined.

And that hefty price tag serves as a reminder of exactly how important the industry remains. Even as production has slowed due to citrus greening, the study’s findings reiterate the dynamic nature of Florida’s signature crop.

Multiple Statewide Benefits

With industry revenues equaling $4.8 billion in 2012-2013, the industry’s impact multiplies as growers, processors, and industry employees spread the revenue across the local economy. The study found that citrus industry contributed about $5.3 billion to Florida’s gross domestic product in a year.

In fact, more than $10 billion spent in all sectors of the Florida economy can somehow be attributed to the Florida citrus industry, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Alan Hodges. Everything from real estate to construction to healthcare is affected by the work we do. And it doesn’t end there.

The industry generated $326 million in state and local taxes, providing vital funding for Florida’s schools, roads, and public services. We also remain a top employer in the state, providing more than 62,000 jobs in citrus fruit production, juice manufacturing, and fruit packing.

While the study’s numbers are compelling, they also harbor a painful truth. The cost to care for a grove has risen dramatically, due to citrus greening. Even higher prices at the retail level are not enough to offset the continuing investments growers are making.

The Battle Goes On

The study does, however, serve as a reminder that the battle against citrus greening must go on. HLB caused a cumulative loss of more than $2.9 billion in grower revenues during the past eight seasons. This resulted in an average annual loss of more than 7,500 jobs and $975 million in overall industry output.

Here at the Florida Department of Citrus, we remain focused on doing all that we can to promote and protect the industry. We continue to execute creative promotional campaigns at the retail and foodservice level — programs that are carefully designed to sell 100% Florida orange juice to consumers who are grocery shopping or dining out.

We also are engaged in a variety of public relations and marketing activities designed to shape consumer perceptions and impact consumer behavior. Those activities include our proactive media relations activities, which have already yielded almost double the consumer impressions we achieved last year, as well as innovative advertising in the digital space favored by the millennial moms our juice brands adore. Along the way, we’re also launching the next two digital editions of Marvel’s custom Avengers comics, featuring Captain Citrus, to engage kids and their families in the values of Florida citrus.

The bottom line for Florida: Despite — or, in some cases, because of — greening, the citrus industry continues to make a huge impact on the state’s economy. Hats off to the growers who continue to do everything they can to enhance the viability of their trees, even as they invest in new ones. Those trees and every piece of fruit they yield represent something the economists can’t quite measure: hope. We have it.