Fall is always an unpredictable time for the Florida citrus industry.
To begin with, October is when the Atlantic Hurricane Season starts to wind down. It’s a time when growers are either reeling from a devastating blow or holding their collective breath and praying it remains a quiet year. The season runs through November 30, so while the state isn’t out of the woods yet, the busiest months of the season have passed.
This year, the industry is fresh off a particularly disappointing 2022-23 harvest season that saw the lowest yield in nearly a century. Hurricanes Ian and Nicole combined with the ever-present greening to create a substantial challenge. The final tally of 15.8 million boxes was down 41 million boxes from the previous year.
October is also when the temperatures start to ease and the state typically gets its first cool spell. That initial brush with lower temperatures is a telling time because that’s when growers start seeing fruit drop.
The widely reported success that growers have had with oxytetracycline injections will face a new test when that cooler weather does come. Will the treated trees drop fruit? How much? And how soon? These are questions that are playing out in real time as the industry wades into uncharted territory.
Then the attention turns to fruit quality and benchmarks. Among all the unknowns, one thing is certain: It’s going to be a while before we know the answers to all of the questions.
The USDA issues the first official citrus forecast of the season on Oct. 12, but as any grower can testify, nature writes her own story.