Citrus future looks bright



Economist tells commissioners next decade viable


Wednesday, March 23, 2011 10:05 AM EDT

The next 10 years of citrus production from the United States looks pretty good, Mark Brown told the Florida Citrus Commission last week.

Appearing before the commission at its monthly meeting Wednesday, March 16, Brown summarized during his production report that, “It’s difficult to predict anything with HLB, but Florida citrus production can be maintained at a viable level. The further we’re looking into this there is a good chance for disease control and that could be a game changer.”

HLB is another term for citrus greening. It was first discovered in Florida in the summer of 2005 and is now present in 34 citrus-producing counties in the state.

Brown told commissioners the number of orange trees in Florida peaked in the 1990s at 80 million and now there are 58.3 million. Among the grapefruit trees there is a similar situation as the high of 8.4 million trees dropped to 4.8 million.

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He said the loss rates over the last decade was about 10 percent with the HLB disease along with canker problems and the hurricanes that came through Florida in the last six or seven years.

“Despite the dire side of (HLB) disease there is hope, we believe, significant hope on controlling HLB,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to grow a disease-tolerant tree but that will take some time. These insects are a major focus of our research and it has been effective in some areas.”

Brown showed commissioners a chart showing how many boxes Florida can expect in the next decade. He maintained that 140 millions boxes can be maintained with a drop of 4 to 5 million in the next five years, but “we think the top (of the high-low) chart is more likely where we’ll end up,” he said.

“Based on the average yields we could be as high as 160 million boxes,” he said.

In grapefruit he said the more likely scenarios would be in the 17-19 million box range.

“Higher productions are more likely,” he said.

Robert Behr, commission member who represents Polk among other counties, asked if his predictions took into account Brazil’s production and how it would impact the U.S. over the next decade.

“Their production trend over the last decade has fallen off quite significantly,” Brown said. “They formerly shipped about 350 million boxes and have dropped to 300 million and less in the latest I’ve seen.”

He said Brazil does have more options than the U.S. because it has more plant to plant citrus, but he doesn’t know exactly what they’re going to.

“I don’t have an exact number,” he said. “But they are continuing to have a tight supply situation.”

When asked if his predictions were based on acreage or trees as there has been a great tree loss in Florida, Brown said he used tree production on predictions and based it on a yield per acre on trees.

“We’re using acres but using a combination,” he said. “We moved to that because of the high density.”

Deputy Executive Director of Research and Operations Robert Norberg said the loss rates and replanting were the two biggest parts of the equation. The losses are outstripping the ability to replant, he said, referring to the periods of canker, the effects of the hurricanes and the HLB disease.

“It put us behind the eight ball when we eradicated” millions of trees.


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