Despite the ongoing industry challenges, citrus is still royalty in Florida agriculture, and, like “the Royals” in England, royalty will get the headlines — in the Sunshine State especially but also across the nation.
Once each month for 10 months out of each year, Florida citrus is guaranteed at least one headline — the report about the citrus forecast. The 10 forecasts, estimates of citrus production, come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) during the citrus harvesting season. The estimates, which also include citrus grown in California and Texas and projected yields for frozen concentrated orange juice, begin in October (the first report for the 2019-2020 season came out Oct. 10) and continue through July.
Because citrus is harvested during a span of several months and sold year round, the crop estimates provide very important pieces of information in an often complex industry.
Mark Hudson, a Florida statistician with the USDA-NASS Southern Region Florida Field Office in Maitland, explains the citrus harvest estimates this way:
“The purpose is to forecast, based on objective measurements, fruit population and bearing tree inventory of what the final citrus production will finally be realized — like a weather forecaster forecasts what future weather conditions will be realized. Growers and processors can make business decisions based on these forecasts.”
The citrus harvest estimates also have a bearing on the prices citrus processors will pay for the fruit harvested from the groves and the prices consumers will pay at the store for fresh fruit and juice.
According to a January 1971 report by the Florida Crop and Livestock Reporting Service (you can find it at bit.ly/2olhvAN), the chronology for estimates of Florida citrus production dates way back to 1889. Hudson notes that objective measurements for forecasting began as early as 1939.
Objectivity is key to the accuracy and reliability of the citrus harvest estimates.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Florida Agricultural Statistics Service describes the basics for creating a citrus crop forecast:
“The four basic parameters used in the forecast are number of bearing trees, number of fruit per tree, fruit size, and fruit loss from droppage. The first two of these parameters have the greatest influence on the forecast.
“The general model incorporates the estimated total fruit (bearing trees times average fruit per tree), divided by the number of fruit projected to make a standard box at harvest (using the fruit size survey), reduced for droppage (the fraction of fruit counted at survey time, but lost to droppage before it was harvested). We have different surveys to collect the data.”
The Florida citrus varieties included in the production forecasts are non-Valencia oranges (early, including Navel, and mid-season varieties), Valencia oranges, grapefruit (white and colored), tangelos, and tangerines (early and Honey).
For a variety of reasons, citrus greening and Hurricane Irma chief among them, the 2017-2018 season was a very lean one for Florida citrus production, but the fruit numbers were better for 2018-2019. According to the final 2018-2019 citrus forecast released in July, production estimates were 41.2 million boxes for Florida Valencia oranges, 30.4 million for non-Valencia oranges, 990,000 boxes for tangerines and tangelos, and 4.51 million boxes for all grapefruit varieties. Fingers are crossed for an even better citrus harvest for 2019-2020.
BIO: Baxter Troutman is founder and chief executive officer of Labor Solutions, a staffing company with offices in Bartow, Winter Haven, Lake Wales, Arcadia, and Plant City. You also can visit his Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch online at www.DH-LR.com. A cattle rancher and citrus grower who served in the Florida House of Representatives, Troutman understands the challenges and concerns of today’s farmer.