Florida citrus crop estimate shrinks again post-Irma

Florida citrus groves were severely damaged by Hurricane Irma. Provided.

Hurricane Irma continues to haunt Florida farmers as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tuesday once again decreased its monthly estimate of the state’s 2017-2018 citrus crop.

The USDA now says Florida will produce 46 million boxes of oranges, down 4 million boxes from November and 8 million boxes from October. The USDA makes its first estimate in October of each year and revises it monthly until the end of the season in July.  For more information go to https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Citrus/

   “This is exactly what we thought would happen as the true damage begins to rear its ugly head in the groves across Florida,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest grower organization. “Unfortunately the situation is going to get worse before it gets better; we think the actual size of the 2017-2018 crop will not be known until the season is over and all the fruit is picked.”

“Clearly, this lower estimate provides stark evidence that Congress needs to pass a citrus relief package so we can start to rebuild and put the industry on a path to sustainability while saving the communities that rely on citrus,” Sparks said.

On September 10  Hurricane Irma moved through the center of the state pounding Florida’s major citrus producing regions with up to 110 mph winds and 15 inches of rain. The hurricane blew fruit off the tree and caused widespread tree damage. A FCM survey of growers conducted post Irma pegged total fruit loss at almost 60 percent with some reports of 100 percent fruit loss in the Southwest part of the state.

Tuesday’s forecast represents a decline of more than 80 percent since the peak of citrus production at 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Tuesday, “While much of the state has recovered and moved on from Hurricane Irma, Florida’s citrus growers continue to grapple with the unprecedented damage, which is still unfolding in many groves. Florida’s growers need support and they need it as quickly as possible. I will continue to work with Governor Scott and leaders in Washington to get Florida’s growers the support and relief they need to rebuild.”

After Irma, Putnam announced that Florida citrus sustained more than $760 million in damages.

For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FreshFromFlorida.com.

 

 

PB County sweet corn harvest beats rain, but fields are flooded

Western Palm Beach County’s  sweet corn harvest has been completed.

This season’s sweet corn harvest was completed just before the torrential rains began  Sunday, western Palm Beach County farmers report.

Farms leave produce to rot in fields as crop price drop

Everglades Agricultural Area farmers in western Palm Beach and eastern Hendry counties harvested close to 373 million ears of sweet corn this season. It’s their biggest crop after sugar cane.

Palm Beach County produces more sweet corn than any other county in the nation. The crop is typically valued at more than $100 million a year.

SB 10 reservoir bill’s passage pleases farmers, environmentalists

John S. Hundley, vice president of Hundley Farms east of Belle Glade and president of EAA Farmers said Wednesday that some Glades area fields have had as much as a foot of rain since Sunday. Northern areas of the EAA received 5 to 6 inches, while areas south of Clewiston were hit with as much as 15.5 inches.

“Had this happened a month ago, it would have been a disaster,” Hundley said. “It has been a long time since I have seen a rain like this and not had a tropical event.”

Florida fruit, vegetable growers see hope in Trump’s NAFTA stance

While farmers are relieved that sugar cane and vegetable harvests have ended, cane plants are underwater, which will damage them and eventually kill them.  Even rice, a crop that grows in flooded fields and is produced in the summer as a rotation crop,  is being impacted.

“Everything is underwater.  Some of our rice is going to die. The plant itself has to have at least something above the water. We had small rice planted behind the sweet corn that was barely up. You see some of those fields, and it looks like we have flooded them on purpose,” Hundley said.

The EAA farming  basin south of Lake Okeechobee is one of the nation’s largest fresh-market sweet corn producers (as opposed to corn that is canned or frozen)  and supplies fresh products all over the U.S., to Canada and Europe.

Many farmers plant corn in rotation with sugar cane, and then cultivate rice before going back to sugar cane.

 

 

 

 

Putnam to Commerce Sec. Ross: You live in Palm Beach, investigate Mexico!

Piles of discarded radishes line a field at Roth Farms in Belle Glade, Florida on January 11, 2017. Prices were low due to imports from Mexico, and it wasn’t worth harvesting the radishes. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Department of Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross is a Palm Beach County resident and Wednesday Florida Agriculture Commissioner reminded him of that as he urged Ross to initiate an investigation into Mexico’s unfair trade practices.

The billionaire investor and his wife Hilary Geary Ross own a house in Palm Beach.

Putnam sent a letter to  Ross emphasizing the need for fair trade, as Mexican imports have negatively affected Florida agriculture.

“As a resident of Palm Beach County, one of the most fertile growing regions in the State of Florida, you are keenly aware of the tremendous diversity of agricultural commodities produced by Florida’s farmers and ranchers,” Putnam wrote.

Palm Beach County’s winter vegetable season coincides with Mexico’s, and the cheap imports have adversely impacted Florida growers.

The Palm Beach Post covered the problem in January.

Florida agriculture has an economic impact of more than $120 billion a year and provides the impetus for more than 2 million jobs, Putnam said.

“I believe that Florida produces the highest quality agricultural commodities in the world and can successfully compete in a global market on a level playing field. Unfortunately, the current trade environment created under NAFTA is anything but a fair and level playing field for Florida’s producers,” Putnam stated.

The letter can be found here.

Florida orange forecast drops as greening disease continues to kill trees

Greening disease causes fruit to become lopsided and taste bitter.

Florida’s orange crop continues to be decimated by greening disease, and Thursday, federal forecasters dropped the orange production  estimate for the 2017-18 season by 3 million boxes from last month’s estimate.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said  that Florida growers will produce 67 million 90-pound boxes of oranges, down 17 percent from the 81.5 million  boxes harvested last season. In the 2014-15 season, Florida’s commercial growers produced 96.9 million boxes of oranges.

Thursday’s  forecast represents a decline of more than 70 percent since the peak of citrus production at 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season.

In September 2005, USDA scientists confirmed the first U.S. detection of greening on samples of pummelo leaves and fruit from a Miami-Dade County grove. It is now endemic to Florida and found in every citrus-producing county.

The symptoms include yellow shoots, mottled leaves,  twig death, tree decline and reduced fruit size and quality. Affected fruit tastes bitter, medicinal and sour. Symptoms don’t show up for an average of two years following infection.

The disease is spread by a tiny insect called the  Asian citrus psyllid, that was first detected in the U.S. in Delray Beach in 1998. The psyllid transports the greening pathogen infected trees to healthy trees as they feed on the plant. They have mottled brown wings and sit at an angle to the shoot or leaf on which they feed.

In 2016  Putnam issued a crisis declaration  regarding growers’ Section 18 application to the Environmental Protection Agency, which allowed the immediate use of certain antimicrobial treatments to combat greening.

Senate committee passes SB10. Foes say it’s a land grab, friends applaud.

Roth Farms in Belle Glade is shown here. Credit: Bill Ingram, Palm Beach Post
Roth Farms in Belle Glade is shown here.
Credit: Bill Ingram, Palm Beach Post

 

Update: The Florida Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee passed SB10 Tuesday.

Danielle Alvarez, spokesperson for EAA Farmers, Inc. said in a statement:

“Today, the Florida Senate confirmed that SB10 is nothing more than a big government land grab. Four hours of expert testimony prior to today gave evidence that the sources of the water volume and pollution problems come from north of Lake Okeechobee and in Martin County’s local basin yet the bill has no mention of how to stop that pollution from plaguing Florida’s lakes, rivers and estuaries. Instead, it solely puts those problems on the backs of farmers.

“Despite knowing that landowners in the Everglades Agricultural Area  are not willing sellers of their private property, Senators voted to move forward with this liberal plan to take the land. The Senate’s overreach with SB10 will accomplish nothing more than devastating thousands of farm families, hurting our local food supply, and making Americans more dependent on imported food from foreign countries.”

The Everglades Foundation praised the committee’s action.

The Everglades Foundation  today applauded the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation for voting favorably on Senate Bill 10, sponsored by State Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island). SB 10 would expedite a critical Everglades restoration project to reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and send water south into the Everglades and Florida Bay.

“On behalf of The Foundation, I applaud the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation for voting favorably on SB 10,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of The Foundation. “This legislation would expedite water storage south of Lake Okeechobee to store, clean and send water into the Everglades and Florida Bay.

“Floridians from all over the state grasp the importance of this water storage reservoir and their support of this legislation has been immense,” said Eikenberg. “This reservoir will drastically reduce the amount of discharges to the east and west, finally giving us an option to send Lake Okeechobee water south and solving a water crisis that is a concern to those that live in all corners of the state.”

Previous post:

Landowners in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee said Monday that they are not willing sellers of their property to the government for water reservoirs as proposed under Senate Bill 10.

The letter signed by 13 people who collectively own hundreds of thousands of acres  offarmland or serve as executives of companies which own ag land in western Palm Beach County  is slated to be delivered to the Senate President Joe Negron and the entire Florida Legislature Tuesday. It states they do not support any governmental acquisition of farm lands south of Lake Okeechobee to solve issues that are being caused north of Lake Okeechobee and in Martin County.

Sens. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, are pushing for a $2.4 billion plan outlined in SB 10 to buy 60,000 acres of farmland for water reservoirs south of  Lake Okeechobee they contend will help solve pollution and toxic algae problems in  the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

The bill filed in late January says if there aren’t enough willing sellers, then 153,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp.’s land should be purchased under an option entered into in 2010.

The letter’s signatories include Robert Buker Jr.  of U.S. Sugar Corp. and SBG Farms, Robert Underbrink of King Ranch’s Big B Sugar Corp., James Shine Jr. of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, Raymond “Rick” Roth Jr. of Roth Farms, Alfonso Fanjul and J. Pepe Fanjul of Florida Crystals Corp., Alex Tiedkte of Eastgate Farms, John L. Hundley of Hundley Farms, Justin G. Soble of Star Ranch Enterprises and Star Farms Corp.,  Alonso Azqueta of Trucane Sugar Corp., Frances Hand and Homer Hand, private landowners, and Dennis Wedgworth of Wedgworth Farms.

The letter can be read here:

eea-landowners-not-willing-sellers-letter

“We are not willing sellers,” said John L. Hundley, chairman of the board of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, Belle Glade, and president of Hundley Farms. “Taking our farmlands out of production to pursue a plan that is not science-based will not fix the problems in the coastal estuaries. Instead, taking fertile farmland will punish the thousands of hard-working farm families and farming businesses in our rural Everglades Agricultural Area.”

Hundley’s son John S. Hundley, vice president/production, Hundley Farms,  is president of EAA Farmers, a non-profit coalition of 60 farmers, landowners and businesses who say further land purchases would put small farmers out of business.

Keith Wedgworth, of Wedgworth Farms and EAA Farmers said the bill has the potential to shut down at least two vegetable packinghouses and close the cooperative’s sugar mill in the region with no benefit to the coastal estuaries.

“Eliminating more farmland with the nation’s most productive soils will hurt our local food supply and make us more reliant on imported food from foreign countries. This is not a plan in the best interest of of the families in Florida and across the nation who rely on steady food supplies from American farmers they can trust. Sadly, this is just another anti-farmer, anti-jobs bill,” Wedgworth said.

The landowners say the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the Central Everglades Planning Project, which are approved federal and state projects, are pending and awaiting funding, and are the “real solution” to curbing discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

The landowners’ other main points as stated in the letter are:

•Water reservoirs south of Lake Okeechobee simply cannot store enough water to stop the discharges from the lake when the region is inundated from heavy rains.

•Buying more land does not fix the problem.

•Farmers in the EAA have been working to restore the Everglades for more than two decades.

•Water quality improvements on their land are 100 percent paid for by EAA farmers.

•Farmers south of the lake have seen more than 120,000 acres of productive farmland purchased by the state over the last two decades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida’s orange crop estimate sinks lower as tree-killing disease spreads

Greening disease causes fruit to become lopsided and taste bitter.
Greening disease causes fruit to become lopsided and taste bitter.

Florida’s signature crop continues to be hammered by greening disease, and Thursday the U.S. Department of Agriculture reduced its orange crop forecast for the 2016-17 season.

The Florida all orange forecast, at 71 million  90-pound boxes  is down 1 million boxes from last month’s estimate of 72 million,  and down 13 percent from last season’s final utilization of 81.6 million boxes.

The grapefruit crop estimate dropped to 9 million boxes from 9.3 million boxes in December. Florida produced 10.8 million boxes of grapefruit in the 2015-16 season.

Greening is a bacterial disease spread by the tiny Asian citrus psyllid. It was first confirmed in August 2005 in Miami-Dade County. By that October, it was found in Palm Beach, Broward and Hendry, and since then has spread throughout Florida and to other states such as Texas and California.

Florida growers produced a peak of 244 million boxes of oranges in the 1997-98 season.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said Thursday, “Because of citrus greening, production of our state’s signature crop is down 70 percent from 20 years ago. The future of Florida citrus, and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports, depends on a long-term solution in the fight against greening. Our brightest minds are working to find a solution, but until then, we must support our growers and provide them every tool available to combat this devastating disease.”

Putnam has requested more than $17 million in state funding to continue critical research and support Florida’s citrus industry.

Still have a citrus tree? Here are some greening symptoms:

•Leaf yellowing or blotchy mottling of leaves

•Lopsided and bitter fruit

•Fruit that remains green even when ripe

•Twig dieback and stunted sparsely foliated trees that may bloom off season.

 

 

Tribute video tells the story of sugar cane industry leader Wedgworth

Florida agriculture leader George H. Wedgworth, 88 of Belle Glade, died Wednesday at his home in Belle Glade.

This video tells the story of how he founded the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida in 1960, and much more.

Funeral services are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Community United Methodist Church, 401 S.W. First Street, Belle Glade.

 

Florida orange crop forecast at 70 million boxes, lowest in decades

Greening disease causes fruit to become lopsided and taste bitter.
Greening disease causes fruit to become lopsided and taste bitter. The disease with no known cure has devastated Florida’s citrus industry.

Florida’s signature crop, the orange, continues to be battered by greening disease, and the federal government’s first forecast of the 2016-17 is a bleak one. It’s shaping up to be worse than last season’s when the crop reached a 52-year low.

The state’s commercial orange crop will be an estimated 70 million boxes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.  That’s a drop of more than 11 million boxes from last season’s 81.6 million boxes, which was 70 percent lower than 20 years ago.

As recently as 2013-14, Florida citrus growers produced 104.7 million 90-pound boxes of orange oranges. Production has declined from a peak of 244 million boxes during the 1997-1998 season.

Over the last decade, Florida’s commercial groves have been crippled by greening, a bacterial disease. Spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, it attacks a tree’s vascular system and can kill it within two years.
In September 2005, U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists confirmed the first U.S. detection of greening on samples of pummelo leaves and fruit from a Miami-Dade County grove.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday, “Although not unexpected, today’s initial citrus crop forecast is disheartening and further proof of the trying times facing Florida’s citrus industry. Production of our state’s signature crop is down 70 percent from 20 years ago, and the future of Florida citrus depends on a breakthrough in the fight against greening. We must continue to support our growers and provide them with every tool available to combat greening.”

Development of land into commercial and residential uses has also played a role in the shrinking crop, but greening and other diseases are the main cause.  Florida’s commercial citrus acreage has dropped to 480,121 acres this year, from 857,687 acres in 1996,the USDA said last month. That said, the state still has  50.8 million bearing orange trees.

The state will produce an estimated 9.6 million boxes of grapefruit, down from 10.8 million last season. In 2013-14 Florida produced 15.65 million boxes of grapefruit, the USDA said.

Michael Sparks, vice president and CEO of grower group Florida Citrus Mutual said Wednesday, “The 2016-17 citrus season is here and we are cautiously optimistic heading into it.  The all Florida orange forecast number of 70 million boxes is about what we expected, and although it’s low Florida growers will again use their trademark resilience to bring consumers the best citrus in the world.”

 

Florida winning the battle against one of the world’s largest snails

Florida is winning the fight against the destructive giant African land snail.
Florida is winning the fight against the destructive giant African land snail.

More than 164,000 giant African land snails  have been eliminated in Florida since the invasive snail was discovered in Miami-Dade County in 2011, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Friday.

In addition to threatening more than 500 varieties of plants and agricultural commodities, GALS consume plaster and stucco to get the calcium needed to grow their shells. The snails also carry a parasite that can cause a type of meningitis in humans and animals.

“I am proud of the significant progress we’ve made in our effort to eliminate the giant African land snail,” Putnam said. “We will remain vigilant in our fight against these invasive pests.”

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ detector dog teams and dedicated staff execute an aggressive program to routinely survey and destroy snails. Over the last five years, the department has detected and eliminated snails in 31 core areas, located in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Due to the success of the program, the decommissioning team is recommending that 15, or nearly half, of the core areas be decommissioned in the coming year.

The snails haven’t been found anywhere in Florida outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, FDACS spokesman Aaron Keller said.

A team of FDACS and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists use the following criteria to thoroughly decommission a core area:

  • Surveillance and treatment efforts for 17 months with no detection of live GALS;
  • An additional 19 months of surveillance with no detection of live GALS;
  • A minimum of one detector dog survey; and
  • A minimum of one night survey, when snails can be more active.

 

“USDA is extremely pleased with the cooperative program’s progress in eradicating this high-impact pest of U.S. agriculture in South Florida,” said USDA State Plant Health Director Paul Hornby. “Our ongoing partnership with State, county, and city officials, and the cooperation of Florida homeowners has made this progress possible. USDA has invested $13.5 million in the effort, and we remain committed to safeguarding Florida against this invasive pest.”

 

Originally from East Africa, the GALS, Achatina fulica, is one of the largest land snails in the world, growing up to eight inches in length. Each snail can live as long as nine years. GALS are difficult to eliminate because they have no natural predators and reproduce rapidly, with adults laying up to 1,200 eggs per year.

 

Ninety-six percent of cases have been identified due to calls to the helpline. To report a giant African land snail, call the department’s toll-free helpline at 1-888-397-1517. To preserve a snail sample with gloved hands put the snail in a zip-top bag, seal it, and put in a bucket or plastic container. Do not touch the snails or release them in a different location.

 

 

Glades area farmers reduce phosphorus runoff by 27 percent

Stormwater_Treatment_Area_in_Northern_Everglades

Sugar cane fields are adjacent to stormwater

treatment areas in the EAA.

Everglades Agricultural Area farmers have once again exceeded the phosphorus reduction requirements for water flowing from their farms to the Everglades, marking the 21st consecutive year EAA farmers have met the state’s strict water-quality standard south of Lake Okeechobee.

Phosphorus was reduced 27 percent in the 477,000-acre farming region south of Lake Okeechobee for the 12 months ended April 30. Florida’s Everglades Forever Act requires the amount of phosphorus leaving the EAA to be 25 percent less than before the reduction efforts began, the South Florida Water Management District said. It is not a year-to-year comparison.

SFWMD Governing Board member Melanie Peterson said the achievement is an “astounding accomplishment” considering high water levels from record rainfall. It was the wettest January since recordkeeping began in 1932.

The primary crop in the EAA in western Palm Beach County and eastern Hendry County is sugar cane, but vegetables and other crops are also produced there.

“Hearing these results makes all of the hard work and long hours we put in during this tough year even more worthwhile,” said John Scott Hundley of Hundley Farms east of Belle Glade.  “I’ve been working on our family’s farm for 26 years, and I can’t remember a tougher year managing water, outside of a major storm.  I’m proud of these results because they exemplify the expertise of the growers who were able to manage their farms in a way that protected local food supply and continued to provide water-quality performance for the Everglades.”

The results are made possible by the growers’ science-based “best management” farming practices such as on-farm erosion controls and more precise fertilizer application methods. Since 1996 those measures have prevented more than 3,055 metric tons of phosphorus, including 51 metric tons in the most recent period,  from leaving the EAA.

Too much phosphorus in the Everglades can cause unwanted plants such as cattails to crowd out native vegetation. Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring element found in soil, rock and rain.

“The Everglades Agricultural Area is a uniquely productive farming basin, unlike any other in the nation,” said EAA grower Paul Orsenigo of Pahokee-based Grower’s Management,  the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s  incoming chairman.

“Not only does the EAA provide abundant supplies of rice, sugar cane and vegetables — including enough lettuce for 3 billion salads — but EAA farmers are also essential partners in the success of one of the world’s largest environmental preservation efforts,” Orsenigo said.

Florida’s enactment in 1994 of the Everglades Forever Act was a monumental step forward for Everglades restoration efforts, FFVA said.  It created a public-private partnership between state and local agencies and EAA farmers that has resulted in providing clean water to the southern Everglades system.

South Florida’s water, especially water it moves into Everglades National Park, is cleaner than it has been in generations and meets stringent water quality requirements, the district said.