2015 Citrus Crop Estimates Get More Dismal

By Pamela Denholm

citrusLast year, we wrote an article about citrus greening, the bacteria that is attacking Florida’s citrus trees and causing them to drop fruit before it ripens. The bacteria is spread by beetles, Asian psyllids to be exact. Well this summer, the final USDA report for last year’s Florida orange production and growing season stopped at 96.7 million boxes, far short of the 108,000 boxes forecast. Today, thanks to citrus greening, the estimate of the 2015-2016 Florida orange crop has been lowered again to 74 million boxes.

The USDA dropped 3 million boxes off early-mid varieties, now pegging them at 37 million boxes and 3 million boxes off Valencias which put that variety at 37 million boxes as well. “The lower estimate is a stark reminder that the Florida citrus industry is in the fight of its life,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. “It also shows how desperately we need more trees in the ground to help maintain the existing infrastructure.” But, if you were an orchard keeper faced with these challenges in a heavily citrus populated state, would your thoughts turn to planting more trees? Finding a solution to citrus greening? Or finding something else to do?

On Friday, Buchanan introduced H.R. 3957, the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act, which allows growers to immediately expense the cost of planting new citrus instead of the standard 14-year depreciation period under the current IRS rules. The tweak to the IRS code is designed to increase slumping production and encourage farmers to plant more citrus trees to keep America in orange juice. The code would be available for 10 years.

As the Florida citrus industry continues to decline, the juice of another fruit is on the rise. The Lakeland Ledger reports Florida’s wine industry may not be large enough to compete with California’s, but it is gaining momentum quickly. Apparently, grapes are a better bet these days, and according to federal statistics, 879 million gallons of still wine were produced last year including 1.9 million gallons by Florida wine makers. That makes Florida the country’s ninth largest wine producer, an $895 million economic impact. $895 million might impress you, but when you compare it to the $11 billion citrus industry in Florida, you can see it’s just not cutting it.

Many Florida wineries don’t specialize in grapes. Typical varietals like Pinot Noir, Riesling and Grenache aren’t native to Florida and have a difficult time growing in the heat. Only native Muscadine varietals grow well in Florida. Other growers use blueberries.

The USDA is frantically looking at other alternatives. The bacteria carrying bugs mate when the male uses his wings to emit a sharp buzzing burst of noise, sending vibrations along the stems and leaves of the trees. When the females are within earshot, they respond in kind and the males move towards the females’ sound for a hook up. The USDA has found a buzzer that distracts the males, apparently they are easily confused, and draws them to some sticky tape where they are trapped preventing the hook up. The device has not been field tested yet, but is giving hope to an industry desperate for answers. The production rates have already dropped 60% since the disease was first detected in Florida in 2005.

It is crucial that an environmentally sound solution is sought, since spraying insecticides on the trees back in the 1960’s caused a plummeting bird population in Florida. So, experts are looking for options, “of all the different projects that I’ve heard, there is no panacea to cure it yet,” U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said. “There might be a series of several things, but if you can stop the psyllid from multiplying, you’re cutting it at the source.

One thing I can tell you, is that in all the years I have been doing this, I have never seen Florida citrus prices so high at the beginning of the season.

http://www.NewsCycleCloud.com – edition of the Tampa Tribune – November 10th, 2015Orlando Sentinel – October 29th, 2015How USDA is helping to rescue Florida’s citrus industry, Gainsville.com – November 7, 2015


Spring in December

IMG_0361Can you remember that first day earlier this year when you opened your windows and breathed in the uplifting scent of spring? That’s the time when pea shoots normally appear and bring smiles to the faces of farmers and back yard gardeners alike.

So how do we have fresh, local and lovely pea shoots in our refrigerators this first week of December?  And, if you’re like me, you might be a little challenged by their proper place in your meal planning. I’m happy to say, you may be surprised when they take center stage.

These precious shoots didn’t travel far and you know how much we all love that!  Todd, owner of The Grateful Garden in Hanover, gave us the taste of spring this week and we are the grateful ones.   Todd is wholly dedicated to sustainable gardening and is a valuable resource to those of us interested in practicing organic and sustainable gardening.

One of my favorite things about being part of South Shore Organics is discovering new foods.  Here’s what I learned about pea shoots this week. Pea shoots are common in Asian cooking and were brought here to the U.S. by Hmong immigrants in the 1970s.  The Hmong people migrated from the mountains south of China due to political unrest.  It’s most unexpected and enlightening when food research turns into a history lesson.  On to the lighter side of the lesson.

They are not only pretty but wonderfully mild making them easy to munch on plain or as a salad playing solo or tossed on in a supporting role. If you’ve got a few sprigs left, stuff them in your sandwich.IMG_0363

Boosting their appeal, pea shoots are a flavorful (not at all bitter) super quick side dish.  Simply sauté with garlic and oil and add a dash of salt if you like.  There will be no leftovers.

Any way you choose to eat them, do it soon!  These are your tender greens and are best enjoyed as fresh as possible.  Spring break is almost over, breathe deep and have a good week.

by Michelle Berry