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The past, present, and future of Florida's citrus industry

Jessica Meszaros
WUSF Public Media

Oranges were introduced to Florida by Spanish explorers in the early 16th century. The first recorded planting dates back to around 1565 in St. Augustine.

Florida’s commercial citrus began to take shape all the way back in the mid 19th century, and by the late 1800s the industry expanded significantly when railroads made it easier to transport citrus fruits to northern markets.

Freezes in north and central Florida kept pushing the industry southward, and eventually into southwest Florida. And in 1985, the Gulf Coast Citrus Growers Association was formed to provide a voice for growers on policy issues like water management and disaster relief — and to help do a better job of marketing their product.

The Gulf Coast Citrus Growers Association, which represented growers in Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties, announced it was closing down last month.

It’s another sign of the decline of Florida’s citrus industry, which once produced about 80% of the nation’s citrus, but right now produces less than 17%. For context, in 2003–2004, the state's growers had a record crop of more than 240 million 90-pound boxes of oranges. Based on the latest forecast, they'll produce about 18 million boxes this season. Diseases like citrus greening and canker are mostly to blame, but rising production costs — and rising land costs — are also part of the equation.

We discuss what the Gulf Coast Citrus Growers Association was, and to try and look into the future of Florida’s citrus industry.

Ron Hammel, past-president of the Gulf Coast Citrus Growers Association, and an FGCU agribusiness consultant
Dr. Fritz Roka, director of the Florida Gulf Coast University Center for Agribusiness

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