Irma devastates citrus crops throughout Florida; Citrus recovery bill pushed to congress

Hurricane Irma has caused catastrophic damage on an integral part of Florida's state identity: citrus.

Many Florida citrus farmers found their crops in disarray following Irma's passage through the state. The storm created a mess of uprooted trees, flooded groves and fallen fruit.

Growers are still in the process of assessing the damage from the storm. It could take weeks to know the true scale of the impact, as fruit continues to fall. However, recent estimates put the statewide losses of orange trees as high as 70 percent.

Florida is the leader in orange juice production and second only to Brazil in global orange production. In most seasons, more than 90 percent of America's orange juice is made from Florida, according to the Florida Department of Citrus.

The Florida Citrus industry contributes $8.6 billion to the state of Florida and supports 45,000 jobs, according to the Florida Department of Citrus.

While the impacts of Hurricane Irma are still being calculated, it is clear that the storm had a significant impact on the Florida Citrus industry.

This is not the first challenge that the Florida Citrus industry has faced over the last two decades. In fact, the industry has proven to be resilient when struggling with hardship.

Florida had one of the worst experiences in its history in 2004 when four hurricanes rampaged through the state. Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne slashed crops by a third throughout the state.

Simultaneously, farmers discovered the disease citrus greening in their groves. The disease has been blamed for killing crops across the country including more than 130,000 acres in Florida since 2005, according to the Florida Department of Citrus.

U.S. Republican Vern Buchanan called for immediate action in Congress to help struggling citrus farmers recover on Sept. 25, according to a press release.

“Florida farmers are facing an emergency,” Buchanan said in the press release. “Between Irma and the devastating citrus greening disease, we can't wait any longer to provide citrus growers with the relief they need.”

Buchanan proposed the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act, which aims to assist farmers struggling with citrus greening and the impacts of Irma by making it less costly for growers to replace damaged trees. The bill also provides tax incentives for farmers who cannot afford to replace damaged trees, according to the press release.

“This bill will go a long way toward protecting the livelihoods of the 62,000 hardworking Floridians in our signature citrus industry,” Buchanan said.

The bill was first proposed in 2016. At which time, every member of Florida’s 29-member congressional delegation in both the U.S. House and Senate has co-sponsored Buchanan’s legislation. The bill passed the House by a 400-20 vote in 2016 but did not pass the Senate before Congress adjourned, according to the press release.

Citrus growers are not only confronted with natural disasters and diseases but are also experiencing trouble in the market due to a decrease in citrus consumption.

A USDA report found that from 1994 to 2008, children and adults began consuming less orange juice than in previous years.

The Florida Department of Citrus contributes the decline to factors, such as the proliferation of other beverage options and the concerns surrounding the amount of sugar in orange juice.

They also contribute the reduction in supply due to citrus greening for the decline. The decrease in supply has led to an increase in the cost of orange juice. Therefore, leading to a reduction in the demand.

Ten percent increase in the price of juice causes a 7.6 percent decrease in sales, according to Tatiana Andreyeva, the director of Economic Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

“There was already a decline in demand for orange juice,” Andreyeva said to the Washington Post. “The hurricane will likely just make it worse.”