The U.S. Department of Agriculture released bleak numbers on Florida's citrus crop for the 2014-2015 season, reporting a decline in the orange harvest of more than 60 percent since the peak of production.
The report, which is the final one of the season, was released Friday. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says the statistics are a "new low" for Florida citrus.
"The 2014-2015 citrus season represents a new low for Florida's citrus industry and our state's signature crop," Putnam said in a prepared statement. "We cannot overstate the challenges facing Florida citrus, but we will continue to fight to save the industry, its more than $10.7 billion economic impact and the more than 64,000 jobs it supports."
The USDA's report of 96.7 million boxes of oranges is down from the 104 million boxes produced last year. A box weighs 90 pounds.
This represents a decline of more than 60 percent since the peak of citrus production during the 1997-98 season.
Much of the decline is due to the deadly citrus greening disease. Greening is spread by a gnat-sized insect called the Asian citrus psyllid.
"It's nice to have a bit of stability on this final number from the USDA," said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's largest industry association. "Because we all know what an up and down year it's been fighting HLB and all of the market issues."
"Next year's crop is already on the tree and although I expect a season again filled with challenges, we have a lot to be optimistic about. The Florida citrus grower and all of the tremendous products we produce are here to stay."
The USDA makes its initial estimate in October of each year and revises it monthly as the crop takes shape until the end of the season in July.
During the 2013-2014 season, Florida produced 104 million boxes of oranges. Visit http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Citrus/cpfp.htm for the complete USDA estimate.