Citrus remains the number one industry in the state of Florida, and most of the citrus here is used to make juice. Almost half of all the citrus grown in the US comes from Florida on approximately 480,000 acres of land.
The total production value of citrus to the state of Florida is roughly $825 million dollars.
Nearly all of this impact comes from the citrus grown in South Florida. One might ask, why would a North Florida extension agent be talking about citrus? The fact is, over the past few years there has been a rapidly growing interest in citrus production within in the Northern region. Understanding that citrus is becoming more popular for the region, let’s look at a few opportunities and concerns for citrus production in North Florida.
Overall, the production of citrus in the state is at an all-time low. Over the last 16 years, citrus has gone from 240 million boxes produced annually, to around 50 million. In fact, California has recently surpassed Florida in production numbers by maintaining 51% of the citrus. Some of the causes for this decline can be attributed to multiple factors which include: the destructive citrus greening disease, impact from hurricane devastation, and steady development and urban pressure of the growing human population in South Florida. Because of some of these significant pressures, citrus may have a potential market for production in the northern part of the state.
Additionally, having less population density and fewer neighboring groves will reduce the risks of spreading the psyllid vectored citrus greening disease. Also, there is plenty of land not formerly grown in citrus and that will greatly reduce the risk of crop specific insect and disease pests. For many types of citrus, the temperate North Florida climate with cooler winters provides a more vibrant rind color. There is research being completed on cold hardy citrus varieties at the North Florida Research and Education Center in the Suwannee Valley and Quincy. Also, one should keep in mind that knowledge on citrus production and caretaking are plentiful throughout the state, and that is another plus.
Because of these basic strengths, citrus may seem like an appealing crop for North Florida. However, a few challenges should still be considered.
The cooler temperatures can slow the fruit development phase, and lead to a smaller growing season. This could make it difficult to meet maturity standards during the time certain fresh fruit are typically bought on the market. Hard freezes could set back fruit bearing substantially, or injure trees with little or no freeze protection. Another challenge for commercial citrus growers may be tree availability. In the past, trees have been grown in citrus nurseries on a pre-order basis because of the cost of production. Finding the right trees and the amount you want at an affordable cost may take some work and planning. Finally, the Citrus Greening disease is present in some North Florida citrus as well. It is hard to say what the outlook potential for the spread of that disease might be in the future for this region.
For more information on questions regarding growing citrus in North Florida, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension agriculture agent.
UF/IFAS Extension in Suwannee County is an Equal Opportunity Institution.