A greater number of Florida oranges is expected to be available for consumers next year, according to a citrus production forecast released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Last year, citrus forecasters predicted Florida would produce its smallest annual orange crop in more than 75 years. The reality was more drastic than expected after two fall hurricanes, Ian and Nicole, devastated many of the state’s citrus growers. After producing 41.2 million 90-pound boxes during the 2021-2022 season, Florida’s output dropped to 15.8 million for 2022-2023.
The USDA now predicts Florida growers will next produce a 30 percent increase in oranges compared to last season, for an estimated total of 20.5 million boxes. Most boxes—about 13 million—are expected to be filled with Valencia oranges.
The state’s production of other citrus fruits is also projected to increase. Florida’s grapefruit production is forecast to grow by 5 percent next season, while the production of tangerines and tangelos is expected to increase by 4 percent.
The USDA’s report predicts a significant uptick for the state once recognized as the country’s top orange producer. It wasn’t long ago that Florida growers were producing 200 million boxes of oranges, according to The Miami Herald. For now, production in the Sunshine State is forecast to remain well behind that of California, which took over Florida’s role as the top U.S. orange-producing state during the 2022-2023 season. California is forecast to produce more than twice as many oranges as Florida next season for a total of 44.5 million 80-pound boxes, USDA projections show.
Florida’s citrus groves have been steadily shrinking since the start of the century, decreasing in size from about 750,000 to 369,300 acres between 2001 and 2021, according to a report on Florida’s citrus industry published earlier this year by researchers with the University of Florida’s Economic Impact Analysis Program.
Last year’s hurricane season brought additional strain to the industry. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services data that was reviewed by local media outlets, Hurricane Ian alone inflicted an estimated $675 million in damages to Florida’s citrus groves. While 9 to 11 percent of the state’s citrus trees were destroyed by Ian, others that survived struggled with flooding in the storm’s aftermath.
In response to the USDA’s Thursday projections, Kyle Story with the Florida Citrus Mutual trade association told Citrus Industry Magazine that Florida’s growers are feeling “very optimistic” and that the trees are healthier than they have been in years. The trade association’s CEO, Matt Joyner, told the Fort Myers-based television news station WGCU that an industry comeback appears to be “on the horizon for the first time in a long time.”
Newsweek reached out to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services via email on Thursday for comment.