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Florida Senate Agriculture Committee meets as citrus production continues to decline


The Florida Senate Agriculture Committee met Wednesday for the first time leading into the 2023 regular session, and Chairman Jay Collins acknowledged that the challenges for the industry in the Sunshine State are formidable.

“Our citrus across the state continues to decline due to competition from foreign markets, the ongoing effects of citrus [greening], and other environmental factors,” the Hillsborough Count Republican said after committee members discussed their priorities for the coming session.

Wednesday’s meeting came less than a month after the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) showed in a report that orange production in Florida was down 29 percent from an October forecast, with non-Valencia production down 36 percent. Other citrus crops were also forecast to be lower than expected, with grapefruit production down 10 percent and tangerine and tangelo production down 14 percent.

That October forecast did not factor in the effects from Hurricane Ian upon Southwest Florida.

Collins noted that during the 2019-2020 marketing season, Florida produced 67.4 million boxes of oranges, with the forecast for 2021-2022 to be 41.5 million and for 2022-2023 to be just 28 million. The USDA forecast in October was for a 32% reduction from last season, marking the smallest predicted harvest in nearly 80 years.

“We have to right-size that, right?” he said. “If we don’t keep our food product coming from the state of Florida and revitalize and grow, we’re missing the mark.”

The citrus industry has been struggling for years in Florida due to a citrus greening disease known as Huanglongbing that causes fruits to grow smaller, fall off trees, and produce bitter juice.

Collins noted a proposal initially announced last month that would restrict foreign entities from buying Florida farmland. The matter is a priority for just-inaugurated Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson.

That proposal, dubbed by Simpson “Florida’s Strategic Land Plan,” would restrict the purchase, acquisition, lease, or holding of controlling interest in agricultural land in Florida by “nonresident aliens, foreign businesses and corporations, or foreign governments,” according to a press release issued by Collins last month.

“Foreign ownership of ag land is something that we have to come to terms with,” Collins said Wednesday. “I’m sure some of you saw our bill protecting the purchase of that from states who don’t stand for the ideas, ideals, and principles that make this state and this nation what it is.”

National security

Committee members expressed concerns about citrus and other problems they say they want to focus on this year.

“I think agriculture is a national-security problem and concern for us if we don’t have a robust farming industry and agriculture industry,” said Vero Beach Republican Erin Grall.

Orange County Democrat Geraldine Thompson said the committee should wield its power to oversee the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ regulation of amusement rides, specifically referring to the incident at an amusement park ride last year that resulted in the death of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson.

Sampson died in a fall from a 430-foot-tall ride while visiting ICON Park outside Orlando last spring. The- Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried filed an administrative complaint against Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot LLC in November, calling on the operator to pay a $250,000 fine and never hold a ride permit in Florida.

St. Petersburg Democrat Darryl Rouson added that he hopes to expand upon an urban agriculture bill passed during the 2021 session and looks forward to “expanding sustainable farming in urban cores around the state as a response to food insecurity and food deserts.”

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Oranges, Citrus Industry, Florida Legislature, Agriculture, Florida Phoenix


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