Florida Citrus Industry Slowly Recovering One Year After Hurricane Irma

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    It’s now a year after Hurricane Irma and the Florida citrus industry proves to be as resilient as ever. According to AccuWeather, the Florida citrus industry began its recovery from Irma almost immediately after the hurricane left and has been working on the new season’s citrus crop since this past spring.

    “Thanks to the support of our partners in Washington and the passing of federal disaster relief, many growers will be eligible to receive the aid they need to continue family legacies of growing Florida Citrus,” said Shelley Rossetter, the assistant director of Global Marketing at the Florida Department of Citrus.

    The citrus industry in Florida plays a significant economic role in the state, bringing in $8.6 billion every year and supporting 45,000 jobs. That’s nearly the size of the entire Florida city of Coral Gables at 46,780 people.

    “Florida Citrus growers have faced numerous challenges in the past, including freezes and hurricanes, but they are resilient and have always recovered,” said Rossetter.

    Citrus has been a commercial staple in Florida since the 1800s. Many citrus growers have been a part of the industry for four generations.

    When Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on September 10, 2017, the hurricane hit at the same time that orange harvesting was scheduled.

    The high winds and heavy rainfall devastate the industry and thus the state economy. Growers suffered from 30% to 70% crop loss and approximately $760 million in damages.

    Florida Orange production was estimated at 44.95 million boxes in July, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This was a 35% decrease from orange production just last year when production was estimated at 75 million boxes.

    In some cases such as this, marketing can help to boost sales. Several studies have shown that merchandise with signage improved sales by 20% because it boosts product awareness. For instance, Chef Massimo Bottura was able to save his town’s economy using product awareness after an earthquake hit Italy in 2012.

    Bottura hosted a cooking show starring parmesan cheese and rice, two products that were significantly impacted by the earthquake. Because of Bottura’s show, all 365,000 wheels of parmesan cheese in his town were sold.

    The citrus industry was able to begin recovering when the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed federal disaster relief in February. The USDA also announced in April that the organization would provide up to $2.36 billion in disaster payments as a response to the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires across the nation.

    Citrus growers can still apply to receive payments to cover 50% of their crop loss until November 16, 2018. Because of their family legacies, Rossetter said, many growers are eligible to receive the aid they need.

    Fortunately, Florida has been able to recover from the favorable weather conditions of this past spring and summer. Citrus growers will begin harvesting in October. The state is optimistic that the industry will see a better production season compared to the last.

    “Those who remain in the Florida Citrus industry are more dedicated than ever to continue providing great-tasting Florida Orange Juice and fresh Florida Citrus to people around the world,” said Rossetter.

    Many citrus growers are replanting and the private estimates for the 2018/2019 season look promising. The USDA will release its first crop estimate of the season on October 11, 2018.