On Oct. 12, the news was good. Both the orange and grapefruit crops were recovering from the hurricanes of 2004. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2005-06 Florida citrus crop estimate showed a rebounding industry.
Twelve days later, the news took a turn for the worse. Another hurricane hit South Florida. This time, her name was Wilma, and two of the state’s largest citrus-producing counties — Hendry and Collier — were hit hard.
“Growers in these areas have seen their groves, barns, equipment and homes severely impacted by this storm,” said Andy LaVigne, Florida Citrus Mutual’s executive vice president/CEO. “This will certainly have an impact on their livelihoods and this season’s citrus crop.”
News before the storm
USDA’s initial citrus crop estimate for the 2005-06 citrus crop, which was completed before Hurricane Wilma, projected a 27 percent increase in the orange crop.
Ellis Hunt Jr., vice president of Hunt Bros. Cooperative, said the estimate of 190 million boxes of oranges was “decent.”
“We need 200 million boxes to supply the needs of the U.S.,” Hunt said. “It’s imperative to get profitability back to the grove owners.”
Dan Gunter, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said the Department was pleased with the numbers.
“Growers are likely to see better returns,” he said.
The FDOC, which is funded through the box tax, will have to adjust its budget after the estimate. When the budget was originally figured in June, the FDOC estimated a crop of 201 million boxes. The Oct. 12 estimate will decrease the budget by about $2 million to $58 million, with marketing taking the bulk of the hit. Of course, Hurricane Wilma may also affect the budget, but those numbers are not yet available.
Bob Terry, administrator for the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service, said tree numbers for oranges the service uses in its estimates are down 5 percent.
“The tree numbers are beginning to affect orange production,” Terry said. “We can see it occurring from not only citrus canker, but from other losses such as tristeza and last year’s storm damage.”
The grapefruit estimate was up more than 50 percent to 24 million boxes.
Although the crop rebounded substantially from the 2004 hurricanes, this estimate is still the lowest since the 1994-95 season.