Florida farmers see watermelon highs, citrus lows

Watermelons are loaded from the bus to the sorting and packing line.
Photo by Suzette Cook

Florida farmers led the nation once again in watermelon production during the 2023 season, but citrus production fell off sharply in the 2022-23 season, allowing California to eclipse the Sunshine State in orange harvests. 

UF/IFAS reports on highs from the watermelon season, especially for the Suwannee Valley area that produces a third of Florida’s crop.  

Bob Hochmuth, assistant director of the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, points to favorable supply-demand factors during the area’s harvesting season, from around mid-May through June. 

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South Florida production slipped earlier than usual, he said in a press release, allowing Suwannee Valley to fill the production need early. Then, cold weather and rain hampered Georgia’s growing season, giving Suwannee Valley farmers another boost at the end of their harvest. 

“To have this happen on both the front and back end of any region’s season is quite unusual,” Hochmuth said in the release. “So, to say it was a matter of supply and demand seems very textbook, but that was the case in May and June.”   

On the citrus side, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on July 12 problems with the supply side, with one of the worst seasons in the past century.  

Production fell from 41 million boxes in 2021-22 to a forecasted 15.8 million boxes in the 2022-23 season. That drop puts California in the lead for total orange production with a projected 44 million boxes.  

A similar scenario plays out for grapefruits. Florida’s production looks to drop by around 1.5 million boxes. 

Hurricane Ian played a large role in the numbers. In February, UF economists tallied agriculture losses at $1.03 billion with citrus crops leading the way at $247.1 million. The storm uprooted trees and shook thousands of oranges to the ground. 

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