FORT PIERCE, Fla. — As the Florida’s citrus industry kicks off a new season, growers are bracing for the possibility of another challenging year.
In the first forecast of the 2020-21 citrus season, the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service projects production at 57 million boxes of Florida Oranges and 4.5 million boxes of Florida Grapefruit.
The numbers reflect a 15% decrease in Florida Orange production and 7% decrease in Florida Grapefruit production.
However, Al’s Family Farms in Fort Pierce is staying optimistic as citrus harvesting begins again in a few weeks.
“I’m blessed to be able to do this for a living,” says Jeff Schorner, president of Al's Family Farms. “This is something I’ve been doing for 40 years. It’s comfortable.”
Al's Family Farms is located in the historic “Big Red Barn” on Kings Highway in Fort Pierce.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the peak of citrus production was 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season.
Al’s Family Farms says nearly all of the fruit stands and packinghouses have disappeared in the area, but they continue to work hard to provide the best quality of Indian River fruit, packaging and customer service in the industry.
“Our primary business is shipping,” Schorner added.
Schorner says they’re already receiving shipping orders before their official opening in November and pleased with how their grapefruit and tangerines are turning out this season.
We’re just a little, small family business,” said Schorner. We’ve grown since the seventies just working hard every day and trust in the Lord and we’re grateful to be able to provide something healthy when people are so concerned about their health.”
Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest organization of citrus growers, says Florida citrus industry creates an $8.6 billion annual economic impact.
"I am proud of the Florida citrus grower who continues to produce the best fruit in the world in a very challenging environment,” said Michael Sparks, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. “We will have an adequate supply of quality Florida orange juice heading into the winter cold and flu season.”
Florida Citrus Mutual believes brighter days are ahead, despite setbacks that Florida’s citrus growers have faced as a result of citrus greening (Huanglongbing disease) and severe weather.
“When Americans think of wellness and health, their thoughts turn to Florida orange juice and fresh citrus, especially during these unprecedented times,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “I continue to be encouraged by the resiliency of this industry, its producers, and their commitment to new plantings, research, and innovation.”
Al’s Family Farms is entering the new season with excitement, knowing the Indian River fruit from their local groves is already in high demand.
“They’re starting to get a little bit golden,” said Schorner. “This is Indian River and grapefruit doesn’t get any better than Indian River grown. It’s number one in the world and that’s what we’re striving to do.”
The University of Florida is conducting research aimed at protecting Florida’s citrus industry.
Rhuanito Ferrarezi is an assistant professor of citrus horticulture at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science.
His work is focused on a large-scale citrus tree field trial to determine which of the trees will resist citrus greening.
“One of the best strategies to keep citrus groves productive in current times is fruit variety improvement,” said Ferrarezi. “Some of the citrus tree varieties will survive, and perhaps some may thrive.”
For the last year Ferrarezi has been stationed at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce.
For details about the Indian River citrus from Al’s Family Farms, click here.