Florida orange groves still shrinking
Number of commercial orange groves has shrunk as citrus greening disease attacks trees and farmers give up and sell their land.
Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 05:50 PM
DECLINING: Florida has 483,418 acres planted with commercial orange trees, down more than 1.8 percent from a year ago, the USDA said. (Photo: Matt Stroshane/Getty Images)
MIAMI - Florida's orange groves are still shrinking as the state battles the tree-killing citrus greening disease and farmers sell their land, the annual Department of Agriculture census showed Thursday.
The number of commercial orange trees and total acreage devoted to orange groves have steadily shrunk over the last five years in Florida, which accounts for two-thirds of U.S. citrus fruit production.
The state has 63.78 million commercial orange trees, down about 1.9 percent from 2009, the USDA said.
About 93 percent of those are fruit-bearing trees, unchanged from recent years, while the rest are newer plantings. Orange trees typically start bearing fruit three or four years after being planted.
Florida has 483,418 acres planted with commercial orange trees, down more than 1.8 percent from a year ago, the USDA said.
The report gave no reason for the decline. But Florida's $9 billion citrus fruit industry is battling citrus greening, an insect-borne bacterial disease that kills trees and has spread widely since it first appeared in the state in 2005.
Despite the collapse of the real estate market, some farmers are still selling off their land for a variety of reasons, said Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for the growers and processors group Florida Citrus Mutual.
Florida's orange production dropped 18 percent to 133.6 million 90-pound boxes in the 2009-10 season, from 162.5 million boxes a year earlier. It was the smallest crop since the 2006-07 season, when several hurricanes ripped through the central Florida groves.
The USDA's first estimate for the 2010-11 season is due on October 8. The Florida Citrus Commission has forecast it at 147.3 million boxes, based on a spring poll of its members.
(Editing by Dale Hudson)
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