The Citrus Industry in Florida

by Rachel Baker on January 31, 2015

The article below seems to be written in a way that makes it appear like the demise of the citrus industry in Florida is a new thing. Let me assure you, its not new. I worked in the industry about 10 years ago, and even then people were struggling and trying to figure out how to recover. Greening was a problem them and if I remember correctly, Canker has been a problem since I was a kid (I’m 40 now).

I like this article, because its important information. I don’t like this article because its only a report on a report that came out in December. Here’s the truth: No one buys Florida citrus in the grocery store…because the California citrus looks SO much better; and really, even the South American fruit looks better. The skins are thinner, they are harder to peel and frankly, Florida oranges aren’t tasting as good as California oranges – and haven’t for a very very long time. Unlike, say, Apples, you can’t really wax an orange and make the greening (or the beige marks) look better. You just can’t. So, they don’t get bought in a grocery store.

Some grocery stores in Florida don’t even buy them to put out anymore. The mail order places get returns on a regular basis from unhappy customers because the oranges they ordered as a gift aren’t pretty…in fact, sometimes, they are downright scary looking. This means the companies loose money on returns, production hours and packing hours. When you add these extra costs, companies tend to have to downsize their mailorder divisions; then, customer service begins to lack. Thusly, customers go to places like Harry and David because they use California oranges and other citrus. …and this has been happening for more than a decade.

The demise of the citrus industry in Florida has been a problem for more than just a decade. Truly.

Economic Development Committees around the state are trying to figure out how to solve this problem on the state economic level by bringing in research and technology companies and the like. However, this won’t really help the people who have been displaced from the citrus industry. Its a very difficult to watch all of it and not wonder what will come of the state in the future.

Read the Article: Florida Without Oranges

Florida may produce as few as 89 million boxes of oranges this year, forecasters say, down 63 percent from the 242 million boxes the state produced a decade ago. In a state where citrus is on the license plates and 75,000 people made their living from it just a few years ago, this could have a huge impact. It’s not just growers like the Skinners who are feeling the pinch—citrus generates jobs for the companies that fertilize the trees, the people who pick them, the processing plants that make the juice, and the advertisers that figure out how to sell it.

One report, released in December by the University of Florida, estimated that citrus generates $10.68 billion annually in the state, contributing $326 million to state and local coffers. But because of citrus greening, the study estimated, the industry in the 2012-’13 season employed 18 percent fewer people than five years ago, and generated about $1 billion less each year since 2007. There are now 476,000 acres of citrus in the state, down from 750,000 in 2000.

With no cure in sight, some in Florida are starting to wonder if the industry could be completely gone in a matter of years—and what the state will do without it.

“We would be hard-pressed not to have citrus—it is critically important to the state, not only financially, but as a big part of our export business,” said Dominic Calabro, the president of the government watchdog Florida TaxWatch.

It’s not just greening that driving growers to give up on the industry. Freezes in the 1980s, hurricanes in the early 2000s, and a disease called canker made it increasingly difficult for small growers to stay afloat. Packing plants have been consolidating and shutting down for decades, and in coastal areas, developers have long been pulling up citrus groves and putting up homes and hotels.

In addition, calorie-counting Americans seem to be less interested in orange juice than they have been in decades. About 90 percent of the citrus harvested in Florida goes into juice, which is now competing on the shelves with different types of waters, sodas, and teas. In the 2003-’04 crop year, Americans consumed an average 5.49 gallons per person of citrus juice each year; in 2012-2013, they drank just 3.95 gallons, according to Florida Agricultural Statistics Services.

Grapefruit production is also shrinking as a younger generation doesn’t seem to have a taste for it and an older generation is told to stay away if they’re taking certain medications.

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to Become a Patron or to follow on Twitter.

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