As the Industry Prepares to Hear the First USDA Florida Citrus Crop Estimate in Early October, Experts Are Marking Their Own Predictions
by PATRICK SPINOSA
It’s no secret that Hurricane Irma had a devastating effect on the 2017-2018 Florida citrus harvest. After Irma plowed through the center of the state, making landfall on September 10, 2017, the subsequent citrus harvest season experienced lower volumes — producing under 45 million boxes of oranges. This setback, however, has not stopped citrus producers from developing out-of-the-box solutions to help their groves recover from Irma. In fact, experts are making early predictions, predating the first USDA Florida Citrus Crop Estimate, which is set to be released on October 11, 2018. One early prediction in September declared that the upcoming 2018-2019 harvest will see 77 million boxes from Florida, and that the fruit will be larger in size, too.
In this edition of Central Florida Ag News, these sentiments echoed as regional, state, and national experts weigh-in on this very topic. In this article we will discuss how rootstocks, federal disaster relief, and land loans can contribute to the citrus industry’s comeback.
Rootstock & C.U.P.S. Aid Citrus Production
There have been a number of tools and research projects created to assist in the fight against disease in citrus groves, two of them being citrus rootstock and citrus under protective screens (C.U.P.S.). Experts around the state assert that better nutrition practices for rootstocks have played a significant role in this more positive outlook. Rootstock is a part of a plant, often an underground part, from which new above-ground growth can be produced.
Andrew Meadows of Florida Citrus Mutual, a grower’s group in Lakeland, says rootstock is a key tool in the fight against the HLB disease, also known as citrus greening, which is caused by the Asian citrus psyllid and first attacked Florida citrus 13 years ago. A study from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) showed rootstock selection keeps the IFAS-formulated Sugar Belle® trees productive even if they become infected with HLB. On the market for nine years, it shows signs of enhanced tolerance to the citrus greening disease compared to other similar varieties.
The C.U.P.S. program is another tool giving Florida citrus growers renewed hope for better seasons ahead. According to the Dundee Citrus Growers Association, who founded the C.U.P.S. program, the growing system yields the highest quality citrus using precise agriculture inputs while minimizing the amount of fertilizer, water, and pesticides. With this program, new citrus trees are planted under screens that have shown positive results in protecting from the citrus psyllid as well as other diseases and pests.
Federal Disaster Relief for Ag
Second, and equally as important, Irma’s sweep through Florida last year caused an estimated $760 million in damages to citrus groves. Farmers reported anywhere from a 30 to 70 percent loss in crops, resulting in low harvest numbers. Following Irma, farmers quickly took to the fields to replant trees, awaiting federal assistance. Congress passed the federal disaster relief bill in February as part of a larger spending bill, where the USDA Farm Service Agency will pay up to $2.36 billion in agricultural assistance. Citrus growers can apply until November 16, 2018 for this relief that will cover up to 50 percent of their crop loss.
Benefits of Land Loans to Recover Loss
Finally, land loans can assist citrus farmers in recovering from the previous year, reducing payments, or diversifying their crop mix. With over 97 percent of the U.S. citrus crop production being done in Florida and California, it’s important we face these challenges within the citrus industry together to develop solutions that result in a brighter outcome for years to come. As a grove owner, you have an agribusiness to run, and that means you need to take a long, hard look at the bottom line when deciding how to best sustain your operation and remain profitable.
AgAmerica Lending can help with a customized loan package tailored to your operation’s financial needs. With our citrus grove loans, short-term bridge land loans, and 10-year line of credit, we have land loan solutions to help foster a sustainable and fruitful operation. Our lenders are focused on your operation’s needs, assessing your agribusiness in order to steer you on the path to financial success. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team here at AgAmerica Lending, and we wish all Florida citrus producers a plentiful 2018-19 harvest season.
This column is sponsored by AgAmerica Lending, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.
BIO: Patrick Spinosa, a Relationship Manager for AgAmerica Lending, grew up on a fifth-generation Florida citrus and cattle operation. He believes that experience and knowledge to be invaluable as he helps secure the financial future of our nation’s farmers and ranchers. For more information about Patrick and the AgAmerica team, call 844-238-5312 or visit AgAmerica.com.