DUNDEE, Fla. — Citrus is expected to make a dramatic comeback this year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

  • Citrus forecast predicts production way up this year
  • Oranges by 71%, grapefruti by 65%, tangerine by 60%
  • Citrus groves were hit hard last year by Hurricane Irma, citrus greening

In its November forecast, analysts predicted orange production would be up 71 percent, grapefruit production up 65 percent, and tangerine and tangelo production up 60 percent. All were affected greatly by Hurricane Irma last season.

Steven Callaham, the CEO of Dundee Citrus Growers Association, said the groves look great. He believes the association is the largest fresh fruit cooperative in Polk County, with more than 200 citrus grower members and accounting for 10,000 acres of groves in 20 counties.

“Fruit size is good. Fruit quality is good. The number of pieces on the tree are much better than last year so I am very pleased with this grove,” said Steven Callaham, referring to one of the groves near the association’s office.

In recent years, the citrus greening disease killed orange trees in mass.

Callaham said the growers in the cooperative have been fighting it tooth and nail.

“We’ve tried everything. So you know, what we’re doing, it’s hard to tell at this point which one of the individual pieces is making a difference,” Callaham said. “Growers are finally getting their arms around what they need to do nutritionally to outgrow the disease we’ve been fighting.”

Callaham explained it had to do with watching the trees very closely and giving them water and nutrients when needed.

Citrus Greening and Hurricane Irma hit the industry hard last year.

“The crop was down. The lowest crop we’ve had in 73 years,” Callaham recalled.

He said it weeded out a lot of the growers whose crop hadn’t been doing well for years. He said those growers were often the ones who sold their land to housing developers.

He said many of the other growers who’ve found ways to fight citrus greening have expanded their groves. The association has added more than a thousand acres of new trees over the last five years, according to Callaham.

Florida growers produced 44.9 million boxes of oranges last year, compared to the 77 million boxes projected for this year.

“We’re optimistic. We’re pleased at this time,” Callaham said.

With the increase in citrus production, Callaham said the association has more than a 100 openings for seasonal workers.

While 71 percent more boxes of oranges are expected this year, the forecast says the size of the orange will be the smallest on record since 1960.

The USDA is expected to release its next citrus forecast on Dec. 11.