Will orange production go the way of Cypress Gardens?

01/15/2014 10:50:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

Editor's Note: This is the Field Notes column published in the January 2014 issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.

When I lived in Winter Haven, Fla., in the late 1980s, there was a move afoot by city commissioners to change the city logo that featured a woman, wearing a vintage 1950’s swimsuit, water skiing with a glass of orange juice in her hand.

The image was supposed to represent major activities in the region—water skiing on the Chain of Lakes and at Cypress Gardens and orange juice processing.

Fast forward several decades. Cypress Gardens is just a memory, having closed before being sold and eventually converted into Legoland Florida.

Today’s Winter Haven city logo consists of fancy type saying, “Winter Haven, the Chain of Lakes City.” Gone is any reference to orange juice. Is this a sign of things to come?

If you look at the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture crop estimate, things don’t look too bright. The latest report—Dec. 13—pegs the overall orange crop at 121 million 90-pound boxes. That’s down from the 125 million boxes USDA forecast at the beginning of the season in October.

If fruit drop is anything like it was during the 2012-13 season, that number will continue to shrink as the season progresses.

Although scientists haven’t pinpointed the cause of this unusually high fruit drop yet, many suspect that citrus greening—also known as huanglongbing or HLB—plays a role. They suspect that the bacterial disease has weakened trees to the point where they don’t have the energy or nutrients to support a full crop set.

Orange production peaked in the state in 1997-98 with 244 million boxes. It stayed in the 200-million-box-plus range—outside of the free-damaged crop of 1998-99—until after 2003-04’s 242 million box orange crop.

From there, it’s been a steady decline. Orange acreage has paralleled production, with bearing acreage peaking at 612,600 acres in 1998-99. In 2012, the last year for which figures are available, the state had 433,400 bearing acres of oranges.

But you have to wonder. With this steady decline in production, how long can processors last before excess capacity affects their bottom lines to the point that they shut down? In many cases, bringing in offshore concentrate like they used to do isn’t an option anymore because of the not-from-concentrate trend.

On the bright side, the smaller crops have typically netted growers more per box in returns. But most of them are just plowing that money back in to pay for Asian citrus psyllid control and enhanced nutritional programs.

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Sidney Robinson    
Redland, Fl 33031 Homestead  |  January, 16, 2014 at 12:13 AM

Here in Redland Fl from early 1900's into the 50's, Citrus was grown in large tracts on rockland and marl soils. Central Fla took over then the large production of orange and greatfruit growing. Redland since then is producing tomatoes, beans, squash,zuucinni, tropical fruits of all kinds and exotic vegs & fruits. We adjusted nicely after citrus growing went northward. This change of crops can also help Central Fla farmers diversify their agricultural interests. Forget the idea (land-use) of more over-crowding of homes----we need food for the entire world.... There are a lot of mouths out there to feed.

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