Tuesday, November 21, 2017
News Roundup

Trigaux: As Florida citrus industry wanes, it's time for a Plan B, and Plan C and D

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The latest citrus industry story coming out of Tallahassee is even grimmer than the usual coverage of a state orange crop beset by disease, overpriced land for groves and a dwindling consumer thirst for OJ.

"The final forecast of the 2016-2017 season for Florida's struggling citrus industry shows the orange crop falling 16 percent from the previous season — which, itself, had been at a five-decades low."

Such was the official news this week. I'm reminded of the news about the poor soul who fell off a 10-story building only to be run over multiple times by the busy traffic below.

One can only sustain so much damage. How many times can we write about the fading citrus industry in the Sunshine State?

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, part of an enduring citrus family — and very possibly our next governor — is not about to forsake the orange grove just as he strives to become Gov. Putnam. This week he referred to citrus greening as "a biblical plague" upon the state.

Plague or not, Florida needs to pursue not only in a Plan B, but a Plan C and maybe D. What else can an entire industry do when Mother Nature and the free market team up and decide citrus is no longer our agricultural cornerstone?

There is still some hope. The ag wonks at the University of Florida or some other gaggle of citrus experts may find a cure to the onerous citrus greening. They may find new ways to sell oranges and grapefruit to consumers bored of OJ, annoyed at its rising price and wary of high sugar content.

But good grief, let's get more alternative thinking into higher gear.

One Plan B is lurking out there —sort of.

Horticulturists like UF's Brian Pierson exploring the idea of replacing citrus with hops. As in hops to make beer.

Florida was long considered too hot and humid to grow hops. But those scientists are clever folk. And the craft beer boom is raising the demand for hops.

That might help a bit. But there's no way the demand for hops can replace what was once the prodigious demand for oranges.

The trick, alas, is that even if citrus greening is defeated and the supply of oranges rebounds, the demand for citrus is drooping.

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in its final forecast for the 2016-2017 season that Florida growers have harvested enough oranges to fill 68.7 million 90-pound boxes.

Growers produced 81.6 million boxes of oranges in the 2015-2016 season, and larger crops before that.

Florida's agricultural industry faces both a painful financial and cultural adjustment ahead. The orange icon will fade and no longer adorn our license plates.

Anybody got a Plan C?

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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