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Citrus industry dealing with high tariffs

Posted at 6:30 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 18:30:44-05

Citrus growers on the Treasure Coast say they’ve gotten the squeeze this year as tariffs have made it harder to move their product.

But while they’re riding another roller coaster this year, they say things are setting up for a banner year in 2022.

Through several hurricanes and the devastation brought on by citrus greening, the conveyor belts continue to roll at Riverfront Packing Company in Gifford.

“We’ve had good weather all winter which has helped us. We didn’t have any freeze threats, we didn’t have hurricanes,” said Dan Richey, President of Riverfront Packing.

But Richey says what they did have this year, were tariffs.

Their grapefruit crop was caught in the squeeze between the US and the European Union.

“We got hit by the European Union with a 26 1/2 % tariff in grapefruit. Prior to that, the tariff was 1 1/2%,” said Richey.

Normally 40% of the fruit from the Indian River District would be heading to Europe. That number was cut dramatically this year.

Florida may be able to make up some of that domestically, especially after citrus crops in Texas were damaged by the recent deep freeze there.

After more than a decade and a half, citrus growers in Florida are also looking to plant again. The industry has been decimated by citrus greening, thanks to the Asian Citrus Psyllid which feeds on the trees, causing them to lose fruit prematurely. Scientists have been developing more disease-resistant trees.

“We have over 30 growers in a replanting program with 10-acre grove each,” said Doug Bournique with the Indian River Citrus League.

Bournique says citrus is a $7 billion industry in Florida. St. Lucie and Indian River Counties make up $750 million of that. 10,000 people are employed in citrus, which managed to stay afloat during COVID-19.

“The growers, packers, shippers and the supply lines to provide Indian River Citrus and all of Florida agriculture.. got the product to Publix and Winn-Dixie,” said Bournique.

Dan Richey is optimistic that the tariff will be gone next year, and this years winter weather sets up great for the year ahead.

“The trees went into a state of dormancy, out of that dormancy had rain and warm temperatures that shocked the trees with new leaves coming out and a positive bloom starting to happen.”