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For Fla. citrus crop, it's been a tough year

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 2, 2013 at 2:19 pm •  Published: March 2, 2013
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Sparks said that even though lots of early fruit fell from the trees, the dropped fruit won't end up on consumers' breakfast tables.

"We do not allow that fruit to be made into juice," he said.

Sparks said a "rather significant" inventory last year will prevent price increases for consumers, but such a raise could come in later years if researchers and growers don't find a solution to the greening bacteria.

Putnam said he's asked the state Legislature to increase the research funding for treatment and cure of citrus greening by several million dollars this year.

Greening has been found in every citrus-growing county in Florida. Harold Browning, chief operating officer for the Citrus Research and Development Foundation in Lake Alfred, said some trees in Florida have been infected for five or six years.

"Progressively, those trees look a little less healthy each year," he said. "The trees showing the most fruit drop are those that look the most unhealthy."

Browning said it's clear greening has played a role in the dropped fruit. But other tree stressors — such as drought — also contribute to fruit drop.

And some varieties of Florida citrus are known as "alternate bearing" crops, which means that during some years, they produce heavier crop loads. "This is a heavy crop season," Browning said.

Beyond oranges, Florida is the nation's No. 1 producer of fresh grapefruit. It's sent overseas to 24 countries, and consumers in places such as Japan love it. Last Tuesday was declared Florida Grapefruit Day in the country, kicking off a two-month media blitz for the fruit.

Much of Florida's grapefruit is grown on the state's east coast along the Indian River region. The fruit is not immune to the problems other citrus crops face. In October, the USDA estimated that the state would produce 20.2 million boxes, but by February, it downgraded the grapefruit crop forecast to 18 million boxes.

"It's been a challenging year," said Doug Bournique, the executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League in Vero Beach. "Everybody was hopeful that the crop would be bigger. But we'll get through it, we always do. Every year is a surprise when you have your investment in a limb of a tree."

Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush.