By Pamela Denholm
Last 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