Florida citrus: Some growers say, they're seeing unprecedented changes in the citrus crop

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. - Florida orange groves across South Florida supply fruit to local stores and buyers around the world.  Growers say the quality and the demand for citrus fruits have not changed, but unusual issues are cropping up that farmers have never seen before.
Kennedy Groves in Port Saint Lucie depends on thousands of acres of grapefruits and oranges.  Thomas Kennedy is the fourth generation facing what mother nature has dealt out. The family has been in business since 1909.
Kennedy picked up a large, golden and rosy grapefruit sitting under a tree.
"You know, still nice fruit that you'd see in the grocery store, but you know, it's now on the ground.  See, it's got a black stem already," he said.
Kenney says 17 to 20 percent more fruit has dropped from trees than last year, and what is on the ground cannot be sold.
Much of his fruit is also smaller.  
Greg Colton, a General Manager at the Indian River Exchange Packing House in Vero Beach sees similar issues.  
"A lot of it is undersize, a lot of it is off bloom, inedible," he said.
Colton says, typically 10 percent of what comes into the packing house would be undersize.  This season, it has been 40 to 60 percent.
"It is a rough, rough crop to work through. It's going to hurt financially, it's going to hurt all the way from the top to the bottom," he said.
When the fruit is smaller at the grove, less is packed at the packing house.  That means less money for the grower and volume for the packing house.
"We don't' make a whole lot per box so it makes a huge difference in the packing facility," Colton said.
The citrus industry is speculating about a reason for the changes.
It could be a heavy crop load, warmer winter weather, the greening disease, or a combination of all three.  Scientists are meeting this week in Orlando to hash out issues of greening disease and discuss options.  The legislature is considering giving millions of dollars in research on the greening disease.
"We just don't know what it is. Hoping next year won't be like this but you know, only time tells," Kenney said.
The true cost of more fruit dropping and smaller sized fruits cannot be fully told until the end of the season.  The picking of Valencia oranges begins in late February.

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